How Do I Share Something Challenging With My Supervisor?

April 3, 2018

Here are some tips to help you bring your concerns to your boss

Almost everyone of us has someone we work with who is “above us” on the hierarchy. A principal, a manager, a department chair, a director, an assistant superintendent, the boss. These people work with us, but also have the role of providing supervision or holding us accountable for our progress. So we are in some ways, at some times, intimidated by them.

It is hard to share a truth or give your feedback to someone who you feel is “above you.” And yet, those who are on the ground doing the work have valuable insight into the inner workings of a school, a perspective that needs to be heard, and we need to provide our input. How do we do so when we feel it might be a challenge to hear our feedback? A few tips:

  1. Ask for permission. Start with, “I have a few ideas that I think would make this project move forward more smoothly. Is this a good time to share them?” or “I think I am seeing things from a different perspective. Would you like to hear what I am seeing from where I sit?”Asking your supervisor if they have time and are open to listening to your point of view is a courteous way to approach and provides some assurance they are ready for the feedback you want to offer.
  2. Be ready with suggestions for change. Don’t offer judgments to them alone. Don’t just state, “Your idea didn’t work. It needs to be better.” And don’t just complain. “We are overwhelmed and as the boss you should do something about it.” Feedback that is said in a humane way and is also growth producing comes with possible solutions or next steps.I have heard stories of people assuming that because a person is a supervisor they should know what to do differently and so the people offered nothing concrete in terms of next steps.

    Supervisors often tell me, “Don’t come to me with complaints. Come to me with ideas.” Take that advice to heart and bring some ideas to the table.

  3. When you do come with ideas, frame them in the form of suggestions or recommendations. Notice the difference between offering a possible next step or another way to do this could be and a “You should to fix this” attitude or expectation for what will change. The person is in a position of authority and does not need to accept your ideas as is. Offering suggestions vs. demands is a better and more respectful way to offer an idea.
  4. If you don’t get a positive response and you really think the concern needs to be addressed, circle back at least one more time. “I know you weren’t open to hearing about this the last time I approached you. I still believe the concern is still an important one. Are you open to hearing about it now?” or “I continue to see this issue as being a concern. Is this a better time to talk?”

    I have known people who say, “They didn’t listen to me when I told them so forget about it. It can all go down the toilet.” There is a more conscientious and mature way to manage your frustration and change practice by reintroducing the issue at another time with suggested next steps that are still in your back pocket.

It can be scary to talk to those who are in positions of authority, but it is necessary to bring concerns to those who have the influence. How you bring those concerns to the individual with confidence and control will help you be heard.

This post was originally published as the seventh in a new column Jennifer writes for eSchool News. In her column on ‘Personal Development’, Jennifer focuses on tangible takeaways, tools and teachings that all those working in schools can use to develop their leadership. Read more about the column and browse past and future content here.

About Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams considers herself a "voice coach," helping others learn how to best use their voices – be it collaborating on a team, presenting in front of an audience, coaching a colleague and supervising an employee. Jennifer holds a Master's degree in Education from Stanford University and a Bachelor's degree in English from Tufts University. She lives in Palo Alto, California. Jennifer's publications include Having Hard Conversations, The Multigenerational Workplace: Communicating, Collaborating & Creating Community and Hard Conversations Unpacked – the Whos, the Whens and the What Ifs. She has also created a Corwin Press e-course by the same name.

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