Uncomfortable About Communicating With Boss

Question:

At my work it seems that everyone can go to my supervisor about anything without thinking twice, However, I find myself thinking twice, sometimes more before saying anything. I feel that this is is the reason for my falling behind in work recently. How do I deal with this?

Signed,

Silent


Answer:

Dear Silent:

There are some people who, because of their traits, personalities, experiences and training simply feel more comfortable talking to others, even those in higher positions organizationally. There are those who don’t feel so comfortable but they know it is part of the world of their work and a requirement if they want to be effective, so they do it. And, there are those who are either unable or unwilling to make the effort and they never achieve what they want to achieve. You may be you need to put yourself in that second category–doing it because it’s needed–until you feel comfortable in the first category–communicating and feeling comfortable about it. One assumption you have made is that others don’t think twice about going to the supervisor. They may have thought twenty times about it! You just see the final result–they do it.

So, rather than diagnose your work concerns as being because you hesitate too much before talking to your boss, approach it in another way.

1.) What is valued about an employee at your work? That varies from job to job. It sometimes helps to look at a copy of a performance evaluation form or to recall the components. Usually there are things similar to the following:

Productivity (Getting the work done on time and to the quantity and quality desired.)

Interpersonal Skills (Communicating and interacting in an overall positive way that is effective and efficient, with coworkers, bosses, and customers/clients.) Initiative and Motivation (Looking for work to do and not waiting to be told. Being positive about work and the business.)

Judgment (When choices have to be made about what to do or how to respond to a situation, usually making the right choice that gets good results.)

Dependability (Consistent, punctual, steady, responsible, can be given tasks and trusted to do them as directed, does not use excessive sick time or waste time while at work.)

Team Effectiveness (Works well with others and contributes to the work of the group rather than having conflicts or not participating.) Professional Development (Is learning the job all the time, looks for ways to improve, identifies problems and looks for solutions for self and the work.)

Even if your evaluation form uses other words, you can bet those are part of it.

Consider that list and the reality of your work. Where would you think your boss and others would rate you based on what you have done, how you have done it and what results you are getting?

Evalute each area separately:

1-3 (Not good enough to be hired now and not good enough to be retained in this rating area at least.) 4-5 (OK, but not good enough to be considered Good or Very Good. This is just hanging on.)

6-7 (Good. Could improve in this area and needs to do so, but is stable in this area and not negative most of the time.)

8-9 (Very Good. Rarely does anything negative in this rating area. If other areas are also high this is a valued employee.)

10 (Outstanding. Could be a model in this area for all new employees to emulate.)

If you gave yourself a rating of 4-5 or lower in any area, what were you basing it on? List the things that you think indicate a lack in that area. Consider the results you have gotten in your work. Would bringing up that area have helped you?

If you gave yourself a high rating, what proof do you have that you deserve it? Think of specific examples. If you can’t you may have over-rated–a common thing to do.

2.) Look at your list of traits and your ratings. Pick the ones that are lower than you would like and consider what contributes to those lowered ratings. Is it all about communicating or is some of it based on taking initiative or not procrastinating? Is some of your concern based on lacking knowledge or skills that you could gain on your own or does it have to do with your communications with coworkers or your supervisor?

You may be correct that you are having problems because you don’t feel comfortable talking to your supervisor. But, you may find there are other components as well.

3.) Let’s deal with the issue of talking to your supervisor. One of the classic definitions of an introvert is one who feels most comfortable thinking before talking–sometimes instead of talking. An extrovert tends to feel most comfortable talking before or while thinking, rather than holding back.

You may just work with a bunch of extroverts! Or, as I mentioned previously, you may work with some introverts who have figured out their work will go better if they learn to communicate effectively and appropriately. That is the concept of getting out of your comfort zone.

If you don’t talk much any time and it has an effect on how much you talk about work, try this: Increase social pleasantries at first. Say hello to your supervisor and exchange a few social words. If your supervisor isn’t a very pleasant person, just keep it brief but make the effort.

Find things about work to comment on. Look for times when you don’t have to ask a question or seek assistance. Instead make positive comments about the workplace, the work, the team, recent accomplishments or whatever fits.

While you’re doing this keep working and doing your best to improve or increase it, according to the task. When you have a question, it’s OK to think twice. Just make sure you ask in time to help you with the probem you have.

All of this is a key reason why supervisors should not wait for an employee to come to them but rather the supervisor should go to the employee to ask how things are going. Some employees may resent it but others will finally have the chance to express a thought or ask a question they didn’t feel comfortable talking about on their own.

4.) This final suggestion is a general one. Self-consciousness is, ironically, just as described…consciousness of self to the exclusion of thinking of others. I once read that if we knew the sadness in the lives of others it would disarm all hostility. I also think if we were aware of the discomfort, fear, worry and embarrassment felt by others, we would sympathize more with them and worry less about ourselves!

A friend who seems very extroverted said that a coworker told him, “I wish I was like you and could just talk to anyone.” He said he replied in some general way about just extending oneself to others. However, he told me, he wanted to say, “Are you kidding? I get sick to my stomach sometimes. I just know it’s my job and I also know I have to work through my quirks just like other people work through theirs.” I told him to, next time, be honest as a way to help those who think he is so much more comfortable than they are!

I hope these thoughts help you. My friend is right in this way: Extend yourself. Extend your thinking. Make time a work a time to improve and contribute. When you get more comfortable you can talk to your supervisor about ways to be more effective. But by that time you may find you have discovered those on your own.

Best wishes. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

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.