#AskRevela – Upward Communication

Let us be your leadership “Google.” Ask Revela!

Recently, we began asking those we work with to provide us with questions they’d like answered or things they’ve been struggling with. The next question we’d like to address is…

How do you get upper management to understand that just because things might seem little to them, they may be bigger to someone else?
 – Anonymous


Dear Anonymous,

This question can be tricky to answer, because it can encompass many different situations. The main issue we see with all of them, though, is a lack of upward communication. Maybe it’s difficult to talk to your boss (or your boss’s boss). Maybe his/her schedule allows for little flexibility. Or maybe, you have spoken to your boss, but don’t feel that he/she is listening.

One of the things we see the vast majority of employees struggling with is having a crucial conversation with the person they report to. You might be trying to communicate something important…but then that little voice pops into your head. “This person holds authority over me. This person does my performance reviews. If this doesn’t go well, it could affect my job.” Then, the whole conversation you rehearsed goes out the window. Whether you struggle in this area or not, there are some things you can do to help your situation.

Focus on the goal. Having a successful conversation with your manager means first understanding the goal of the conversation. Then, when and if the dialogue seems to be stalling, you should ask facilitative questions that lead toward that goal. What would a win-win situation look like? With the right questions, you have the ability to create conversations that lead to mutual understanding.

Demonstrate your competence. If you’re going to your boss with something important, it’s probably for good reason. In your situation, it’s because you feel that your boss doesn’t see the impact that something has on you or your team. Do your homework. Gather facts to support your idea. Write down your ideas. And when you speak to the person you report to, demonstrate your skills and knowledge. Show your boss that you know the entire process or situation. If there’s something your boss has done to affect you, let him/her know the impact that is has had on your efficiency, your team, important processes, or other areas. Your preparation will have a positive impact.

Remember that your manager needs you. Those in leadership roles often don’t know the full process of something that is happening on the front-line (because their job is to think bigger picture), so it’s important you make sure they understand the full situation. Your boss needs information and input only you and your team can give because of the work you do every day. You see and experience things he/she can’t experience in the same way. Your perspective is valuable to the entire organization. When decisions are made without input from employees, details can be forgotten. And your good ideas can’t be considered if you haven’t made the decision makers aware of them.

Think about intent. Both yours and your manager’s. Do you believe that your manager truly meant to belittle something that was important to you? And are you going into the conversation to blame your boss, or to help him/her understand the situation? Remember, even as you possess information your manager isn’t aware of, your manager probably has information you aren’t aware of. Your boss sees things from a different perspective. This is important to understand when you’re looking at a person’s intentions.

Use spaced-repetition. Maybe you’ve tried to share ideas or given input in the past, but felt your ideas weren’t considered. It might even seem as though your suggestions haven’t been welcomed. But that’s not necessarily true. If you’ve shared ideas or concerns in the past without success, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again. Think about when you’re trying to get your children to do something or to learn something new. You have to show them over and over again. You can’t just show a baby how to walk once, and expect him to take his first step. It takes time and spaced-repetition. This is how all humans learn. Schedule regular meetings with your boss. Your regular conversations can help him/her understand what your day looks like, what challenges you’re dealing with, and what things are working well. And over time, your boss may learn more about what’s important to you; and you might learn some things in the process, too.

All leaders are different. Different personalities, different leadership styles, and different priorities can make it difficult for employees to feel confident in their ability to communicate upward. Try a few of these tips, and you never know…it could make all the difference.

And if you need help, send us an email. We’re happy to help in any way we can!

Ask Revela

Do you have a question for us?

There are multiple ways to submit your questions.