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How to talk to your boss so she’ll respect you

No matter what your relationship with your boss is, it’s important to keep a few things in mind when talking to the person in charge of your paycheck.

How to talk to your boss so she’ll respect you
[Photo: Headway/Unsplash]

Today, organizations are more welcoming than they once were. Even the most junior employees often get perks that would have been unheard of a decade ago.

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These amenities certainly make staff feel appreciated, but they sometimes obscure the fact that organizations still have seniors and juniors and many levels in between. If you want to get ahead, it’s important to know how to talk to those above you. Do so with respect and dignity, or you might find yourself getting the cold shoulder and wondering why.

Here are four things to remember when speaking “up” in the organization.

Don’t contradict your boss–particularly not in public

It’s not a great idea to tell your boss they are wrong about something, particularly if you’re in public. Even if you are right, it’s wrong to create an open confrontation.

For example, suppose you are in a group situation, and your boss presents a fact that is incorrect. Saying, “You’re wrong,” will create tension in the room. Even a more gentle contradiction such as, “Actually, it was Sheila who took on this project,” exposes your boss and makes her look ill-informed. You’ll create lasting resentment, even if you are right.

I once contradicted my boss about some silly joke he made, and I can count on one hand the number of conversations I had with him after that. It is foolish to go head-to-head with your superiors. They want to save face, and you’re better off letting them do so.

If you challenge a senior executive, do it the right way

If you take issue with your boss, and challenge her to consider another perspective, you better do it the right way. For example, if she tells you that you were late with an assignment (and you weren’t), you might say (if it’s a private meeting), “I believe that assignment was turned in on time.” If it’s a public meeting, save the discussion for later.

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Most leaders value contributions from their reports, but only when presented in a respectful manner. Also avoid expressions like “Yes that’s true, but . . . ” Even though you are initially agreeing with (and seemingly showing respect for) your boss’s views, the word “but” introduces an opposing statement, and therefore the initial respect is undercut. A better choice is to use, “Yes, and . . . ” That way you build upon your boss’s idea.

Pick your battles

Your boss will make many decisions. Some will appeal to you and some will not. When you disagree, pick your battles.

I remember proposing to my boss that our company fund an animal shelter. It was a small amount I was asking for, and I was doing it for a friend. My boss said “No,” and I was incensed—in part because I would be disappointing my friend. I kept arguing for the donation, and my boss pushed back even harder. I left his office deciding to resign as soon as I could get another job–which I did.

The truth is that this was not a battle worth winning. Choose your moments. It’s important to know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.

Avoid mock respect

Beware of phrases that suggest politeness, but are actually zingers. One of these is “With all due respect,” as in “With all due respect, boss, you have forgotten one thing.” As soon as your superiors hear it, they’ll know that you’re about to toss a hard ball.

Keep these behaviors in mind when you communicate, and your boss will hear you, respect you, and see you as worthy of promotion.

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About the author

Judith Humphrey is founder of The Humphrey Group, a premier leadership communications firm headquartered in Toronto. She is a communications expert whose business teaches global clients how to communicate as confident, compelling leaders

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