It’s awesome to have a great thing going with your work wife, but we have a hopefully not-so-surprising news flash for you: The most important person to establish a relationship with at the office is probably your boss. Your manager is the person calling many of the shots in your career, determining whether or not you’re on track for a promotion, and deciding if you deserve that coveted raise. If you’re struggling to figure out how to strike up the ideal rapport, it’s never too late to get your communication with your manager on track — or to make it even better than it is already. Keep scrolling for nine expert tips that will help you step up your relationship with your supervisor and set yourself up for career success.
1. Learn your manager’s preferred communication style. WinterWyman consultant Cassidy Gallegos recommends tuning in to your manager’s preferences for how they receive information. Are they distracted or focused first thing in the morning? Do they respond better to meeting requests via email or in person? How do they communicate news to the rest of the team? The more you take note of your manager’s habits, the more effectively you can adapt your communication so it works best for them.
2. Prioritize clarity. It may sound obvious, but clarity in communication is key. Career coach and entrepreneur Eugene Gamble encourages you to overcommunicate with your boss about goals and outcomes every time you approach a new project or take on a new task. Ask lots of questions to ensure that you’re ready to deliver exactly what they’re looking for. It’s better to present what feels like too many questions ahead of time than to find out later that you didn’t come through with what they actually wanted.
3. Own your one-on-one. Your boss may be big on team-wide collaboration, which puts that much more pressure on you to initiate one-on-one time when necessary. “Start by seeing yourself as the owner of one-on-one meetings with your manager,” encourages Rachel Ernst, Reflektive‘s VP of Employee Success. “This process includes everything from setting the appropriate cadence of one-on-ones to preparing an agenda and leading the conversation.” Aim for weekly private meetings with your boss so that the dynamic becomes less formal over time, making you more comfortable when it’s time to start hard conversations.
4. Be honest. At work, as in life, honesty is the best policy. “If something is bothering you, tell your boss in a polite and respectful manner,” recommends the team at Fairygodboss. Don’t beat around the bush when it comes to the boundaries you’d like to set in the name of work/life balance or about your workload. In order for them to do their job most effectively, your boss needs to understand the full picture.
5. Repeat back the feedback you’ve received. In any conversation with your supervisor, etiquette and conversation consultant Janet L. Parnes suggests that you be sure to repeat things back to show them that you’re listening and engaged. It doesn’t hurt to acknowledge feedback and input about your performance that you’ve previously received from your boss, either.
6. Communicate in terms of your manager’s priorities. If you struggle with feeling that you and your boss are rarely on the same page, consider framing your statements to them based on what you understand their priorities to be. Catch their attention by opening a meeting with a mention of a problem you know they’re trying to solve. “When you do this, you position yourself as an informed and relevant member of the team,” explains Aurelian Coaching founder Nicole Coustier. “In addition, you are more likely to get their attention and initiate the type of meaningful business conversations that can help you become more efficient in your role and advance your career.”
7. Share your vision. “Checking in with your manager to share your overall career vision or development trajectory shows them you care about your future at the company,” says founder of VGT Consulting Group and career and executive coach Vivian Garcia-Tunon. Be proactive about setting aside time to talk with your boss about the future. Come prepared with specific research that demonstrates your understanding of the next steps you need to take to reach your goals, and proffer personal development opportunities or classes that you can pursue to get there. With all of the information in front of them, your supervisor will be more likely to support you in pursuing those steps.
8. Don’t shy away from the personal. Maintaining boundaries in the workplace is important, of course, but it doesn’t hurt to establish a personal rapport with your supervisor. “You don’t need to become best friends with [your boss] in order to communicate effectively, but civilities such as asking how their weekend was, how they are getting on with a personal passion project, or just inquiring politely about how their children are can break down barriers in a big way,” says Steve Pritchard, HR consultant to Ben Sherman. “It’s amazing how much difference a small, personal touch can make. You may even find you have a shared interest outside of the workplace, which can spark a fantastic dialogue with your boss.” Properly balanced with a heavy dose of professionalism, personal talk can really improve communication.
9. Focus on being action-oriented. According to Drift‘s VP of People Dena Upton, you should never walk away from a conversation with your manager without a plan for what needs to happen next. If nothing else, you should have another meeting on the calendar to ensure that whatever discussion you’re having remains ongoing.
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