How to Talk So Your Boss Might Listen


Some bosses are not great at listening. They’re busy; they’re pressured; and they believe their way is best. If your boss is like this, or you just need a confidence boost, here are 12 things to help you communicate effectively.

Reframe Your Message

Sometimes the way we deliver messages results in defensiveness, resistance and a negative answer. Reframing means re-wording so your message lands better. Brainstorm different wording, using the points below, and think about how each would feel to hear.

Be Neutral

As much as possible, talk about facts that led to the situation in a neutral way. Opinions and judgements are much easier for people to disagree with.

Reduce the Emphasis on Flaws

If giving feedback, dialing down from “It’s a big deal that really bugs me!” can reduce defensiveness. The bigger it sounds, the bigger a criticism feels to the other person. Focus also on positive outcomes instead of the flaw. Imagine how these would feel: “It’s annoying when you tell me how to do my job.” versus “I have a goal to manage orders myself. Can we talk about ways for me to practice and take on those decisions? Maybe I can complete an order and run it by you?”

Clarify Needs

It can help to communicate what you legitimately need (e.g., to do your job well) and to clarify what your boss legitimately needs.


Someone who feels heard is more likely to listen. Practice listening, including mirroring back what they say: “So you’re saying…” Even suggest this as a regular practice.

Own It

Own your message by using “I statements” instead of blaming. It’s less likely to cause defensiveness and it’s harder to deny. Even if you see someone’s flaws, focus on your own sphere of influence.

Be Supportive

Be as supportive as you can. If your boss is unhealthy or childish, accept that reality. Don’t waste energy wishing it was different. That doesn’t mean being condescending! Remember, you may be childish in other ways. Imagine how you’d say it to someone you care deeply about.

Watch Your Tone

People may sense arrogance, anger, pushiness or judgement in us more than we can – and it doesn’t predispose them to being open.

Humility Is Key!

Even if we see someone else’s flaws, accepting our own flaws helps us keep our communications balanced.

Process Your Stuff

Process your own part of the dynamic outside the workplace. If your baggage shows, they may focus on that and avoid their own. If they see you can’t handle your emotions, they may think you’re unable to handle your job, and that can influence how much they want to meet your needs.

Look In Your Own Mirror First

This may be the hardest thing to face, but it is very helpful. Sometimes the people who bug us the most are showing us a quality we have in ourselves. Their flaw can be hard to accept because we haven’t accepted it in ourselves. As annoying as that is, accepting and transforming this can make it easier to tolerate the other person.

Make Requests Not Demands

Remember: another person does not have to agree to your requests. If they don’t, and it’s a legitimate need of yours, look at other ways to get that need met (including looking elsewhere). Trying to force someone to do what you want, more likely increases resistance.

Click here to access learning modules to expand your skills for dealing with challenging bosses.

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