Getting What You Need From Your Boss

Does your boss know what you need to do your best work? If you sometimes feel hampered by competing priorities, unclear direction or scope creep, it might be time to have the “Here’s what I need from you” discussion with your manager.

After all, your boss doesn’t know the best way to manage you or support your work – unless you tell them. And most tech managers are so busy, they may not have time to ask. What are the keys to having an effective conversation that doesn’t offend? Have a look.

Gauge Your Manager’s Receptivity

Before you go charging into your boss’s office, make sure it’s safe to have a conversation, noted John Baldoni, an executive coach and leadership educator.

Some managers aren’t open to feedback, and since bosses don’t come with an instruction manual, you have to figure out what works for them, added Deborah Grayson Riegel, director of learning for The Boda Group.

Test the waters by indicating that you have a few ideas about your work or the company as a whole, and asking your manager about best times (and ways) to share them. For instance, some bosses may prefer to hear your ideas over lunch or coffee, while busy tech managers may prefer to read your ideas in an email.

If your boss prefers email, Riegel suggests sending a message like this:

“As you have suggested to me, I am emailing you a few questions about our current priorities and some possible trade-offs. Having clear direction will help me focus my efforts, since I know the importance of meeting our sprint goals on a project as time sensitive as this one.”

Make It About You, Not Them

Set the tone for a productive conversation with your boss and avoid a defensive response by taking full responsibility for what you need to be successful. Knowing specifically how you work best is one of the secrets to being a top performer. Tying your request to the achievement of project goals or the department’s overall strategy provides a framework to help keep your conversation on track.

Here’s an example of a conversation starter:

“I’m the type of person who feels empowered when I understand the priorities. Can we take a minute to review the dashboard?”

Don’t criticize your boss or lay the blame on them for failing to recognize your needs; simply explain the situation you’re facing and what you need from them to perform at a high level – whether that’s clarification, additional resources, support, or the opportunity to tackle new technologies, noted Frank Lio.

Lio has been on both the giving and receiving end of similar conversations as global product support lead for ITW Instron. “Focus on the issue, not personalities,” he said. For instance, don’t call a stakeholder a “roadblock.” If feature creep is an issue, or your boss’s boss is giving you conflicting direction, ask how “we” can deal with the situation.

Better still, offer some possible solutions and explain how the various options may impact requirements and deadlines. That way, your boss will see you as a doer, not a complainer or whiner.

Even if you’re dealing with multiple issues, tackle no more than one or two at a time. Take notes and send your boss a thank-you email confirming your commitments. Don’t get discouraged: getting your boss to change may take time. Just be sure to notice and acknowledge their efforts, especially if they go out of their way to meet your needs. If they’re unresponsive to your requests, try asking a trusted advisor or mentor for advice, or pose this question suggested by Riegel:

“How do I get your attention about something that’s important to me if other methods haven’t worked?”

“At some point, it’s a good idea to have the ‘feedback about giving feedback’ conversation,” she added. “Ask your boss if he’s comfortable with the way you’re giving him feedback.”

Since communication is a two-way process, soliciting feedback from your boss can open the door to more transparency and frequent conversations.

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