How To Converse With Supervisor?

Question:

How should I talk with my supervisor without sounding stuck-up, like a kiss-ass, or like an idiot?

Signed,

Speechless


Answer:

Dear Speechless:

The best way to talk to anyone, whatever his or her role in your life, is to talk with sincere interest in the message that you want to communicate. Sometimes our talk is serious, sometimes joking or light-hearted and sometimes, small-talk that doesn’t mean much (“Nice weather, huh?”) But, through it all there should be a sincere desire to build a relationship that is appropriate for the situation.

You can’t do any of those things if your main concern is how you DON’T want to sound. Be most concerned about being comfortable, honest, friendly and appropriate.

I often suggest the following conversational topics to young employees. If you have been working for some length of time for the same person, they might need to be adjusted.

1. Greetings and farewells. It’s always appropriate to say good morning and goodnight, with a smile and just those brief words. Most bosses don’t have the time to chat with each employee, so it’s easier for them to just look up and say hi or goodbye. But, those two times of the work day are important for showing friendliness and appropriateness. If they leave first, just glance up and smile and say, “Have a nice evening. See you tomorrow.” In the morning you can just say, “Hi, Jim.” Smile and keep moving.

2. Moving through the day comments. When you see someone repeatedly up and down an office or hallway, you don’t want to stop and talk all the time and it seems weird to say a big hello every time you pass someone. So, I suggest that people just make brief eye contact and barely say, “Hi.” Or, “Busy day.” Or even some comment that works for the situation, “183 copies and no jams. Yaaay!”

Those kind of remarks aren’t conversations, but they move things along and smooth relationships. 3. Small talk socializing. Balance in how much time is spent in non-work talk is important, but there is usually time for chatting about various things that make life and work fun. I often suggest to those who feel on the outside of the group that they acknowledge the group as a way to show there are no hard feelings about their closeness. “Hi you guys!” “Have any of you guys seen that movie about cowboys and aliens?” “See you guys tomorrow.” (I use the term “guys” because that has become fairly standard for addressing both genders.)

If you’re not talking to a group the easiest topics for individuals are to talk about his or her family, travel, car choices, vacation plans, etc., or about work topics.

I have found that it works best to limit small talk chit-chat with those who aren’t close friends. Usually it is awkward for everyone and tends to get boring quickly! Say a few things, smile graciously and get up and leave or let them do so.

4. Thank you and appreciation. There are many times to say thank you and we should look for those times. Someone holds the door or they help with something, or they pass along a report or bring a new item to work on. A brief thank you or word or two of appreciation is always appreciated. (“Oh, thanks. I could have gotten that but I appreciate you doing it for me.” “I saw the report on my desk. Thanks a lot, Anna.”) 5. Information about work. During every work day there is usually a need to keep people informed about something. Use those times as times to show appropriateness about conversation as well as to demonstrate dependability. (“I’m still working on that report but I’ll have it by 3 p.m.” “I sent that file over to Gretchen and she said she’d pass it along. I’ll let you know what I hear.”)

6. Requests for assistance. These times should be limited, but there are times when a manager or supervisor is the only one who can help us. Avoid making this a whining, excuse making, groveling moment! Instead, ask for what you need and wait for the answer. (“I can’t do this in the time allowed. I can do it by noon though. Would that be OK?” “I’ve looked at this form for an hour and still can’t figure out what to do with it. Could you look at it and tell me what you think?”)

7. Questions and comments about work and the workplace. A manager is interested in how work is going and probably is often thinking about the future of the office or the staff. Thus, that topic is one he or she is thinking about and has an opinion about. (“How long do you think this situation will last?” “Is this working out the way you want it?” “Why do you think this is causing more work than last year?” “Where do you see us in five years?” “What got you into this line of work anyway?”) There are a million things to talk about. The key is to really want to discuss it and really want to know the answer, not just talk to be talking.

Now, having said those 7 topic areas for conversation, I will also share what I tell young employees: None of that matters if you’re not doing good work. A manager isn’t interested in fun talk with someone who has let him or her down on the work. He or she will also not be very happy to talk if you are creating so many problems at work that you are more trouble than you’re worth. So, first, be a great employee, then put positive purpose behind your communication.

I hope these ideas are useful and that you can adapt them for your situation.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.