How to speak up to your boss

speak up to your boss

It’s really difficult to work hard and feel appreciated in a job when you’re feeling under pressure. Maybe there are new people in your team, or your boss hasn’t listened to your ideas, whatever it is, you need to air your concerns. You should never do so in a public display of airing your dirty laundry, or you’ll give your boss and co-workers reason to avoid you.

No boss likes to hear a laundry list of what’s wrong with the job or the company. So, chances are, if you simply present your list of things you don’t like, your boss will view it as complaints or demands he or she can’t meet.

So, after jotting down your list, it’s a good idea to make a new one for your discussion with your boss. Review your grievances, see if there are any themes that pop out, and summarize them into agenda items. For example, if you’re always eating lunch at your desk or constantly cancelling plans with friends because you’re stuck working late, put “maintaining a healthy work-life balance” as one of the points you’d like to discuss. Whenever possible, try to frame your list in positive terms, and from a perspective of solutions rather than simply complaints (more on that in a bit).

Once you have your list tidied up, it’s time to call that meeting. Now, you might be tempted to rush over to your boss and tell him or her you want to “talk”. However, this term tends to invite crisis mode, so it’s not the best way to have a calm conversation. Bosses are hard-wired to think something’s terribly wrong whenever an employee approaches them and says, “there’s something I’d like to talk to you about”.

Instead, find a smooth segue by approaching your manager immediately after a team meeting, or after chatting over coffee in the break room. Say you have some ideas on “improving your turnaround time on a project,” or “boosting morale around here”, mention that you would like his or her input, and say you’d love to schedule a time to chat. Now, your boss is primed to not only hear your ideas, but to share his or her own as well.

When you sit down for the conversation, I recommend one of three approaches:

1. Suggest a Solution

How you tell your boss you’re feeling blasé about work is a delicate matter. You don’t want to come across as overly negative, but you also don’t want to sugarcoat your dissatisfaction, either.

So, a great way to approach the conversation is to pair your concerns with suggestions on how to solve them in a way that’s mutually beneficial. For example, if your lunch hour has been hijacked by a meeting with the team in London, mention to your boss that having the meeting an hour earlier might help keep the team focused, as everyone won’t be watching the clock as their stomachs growl, and the London team won’t have to stay so late.

Keep the focus on what you can do to improve the situation. Your boss will appreciate the thoughtfulness of your suggestions.

2. Solicit Advice

Not totally sure how to solve the problem? That’s OK—you can use the meeting as an opportunity to ask your boss for advice.

Let’s say, for example, you can’t stand working with Bob in accounting due to his terrible dental hygiene habits. Mention you’re having some challenges working with Bob, and ask for suggestions on how you can manage the relationship better. Fill your boss in on the tactics you’ve already tried that didn’t seem to work (like suggesting to Bob that email communication works better for you for record-keeping purposes), then ask to brainstorm a few more ideas. The idea is to make your boss aware of the situation so he or she can help you find a solution.

3. Ask for Help

This one might sound tough, but sometimes that’s exactly what you need—especially if you’re not exactly sure what is dissatisfying you. Let your manager know you’re not feeling as engaged as you have been previously, and you’d like his or her help getting your enthusiasm back, perhaps with more challenging work. Mention your list, and get the conversation going about what you’ve noticed around the office, and with your role.

Keep the discussion as positive as possible, making sure the focus is not on the fact that you’re unhappy, but that you’re trying to get back on top again. Your boss will appreciate the commitment, and after chatting with you for a while, he or she will have some insight on what motivates you—or doesn’t—and will be better equipped to help guide you back to a happy place.


Scarlett is a recent journalism graduate interested in writing, human resource management and workplace culture. When she isn't being a nerd, she enjoys singing, reading and seeing friends.

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