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How to Effectively Communicate With Your Boss as You Move Up

Communication is essential to all relationships. Whether it be with your spouse, your direct reports, or your superiors, clearly communicating your thoughts or feelings, expectations, and aspirations is far more effective than you may realize.

The keyword is “clearly.” More often than we realize, we make assumptions that we’re being clear with our goals when the truth is that our boss may not even have any idea what we’re looking for. A friend of mine shared a story from someone they knew who was actively job hunting. Why were they looking to make a change? It came down to money — they simply felt they needed to earn more than they were.

Once their supervisor caught wind of that, they requested a meeting with the individual and developed a schedule for a significant pay increase over the next twelve months. The person ended up dropping their job hunt and now plans to stay with their employer for the foreseeable future.

None of that was clear though because they hadn’t communicated their needs to their boss. So today, I want to focus on communicating. In other words, let’s look at how to effectively communicate with your boss as you move up within the company ranks or as you develop career success. There are three communication tips that I think will help you navigate what can sometimes be a difficult process, so let’s unpack each one of them.

First, leverage their DISC style

The DISC style personality method analyzes behavior patterns and personality types to help us better understand each other. These four classifications are:

  • Dominance;

  • Influence;

  • Steadiness, and;

  • Conscientiousness.

As a supervisor, the way you’ll handle a direct report who is heavy in the “D” category is significantly different than how you’ll communicate with someone who is more of a “C”. However, typically each of us is a strong combination of two of the four categories.

For example, a D + I makeup would usually be considered your action-oriented team members whereas an S + C combination results in a detail-oriented even-tempered individual.

Although you may not formally know your boss’s specific combination, you can usually pick up on clues that point you in the right direction. Your communication should reflect their DISC style so that you can connect with them the right way.

Develop a framework that sets expectations and clearly communicated timelines

Every corporate structure is different. Some businesses run “by the book” with annual raises tied to performance reviews on a set schedule. Those types of organizations may even have a specific timeframe for promotions, requiring a certain length of service in your current role before taking the next step.

Other companies have looser guidelines, with merit-based rewards regardless of the time of year or time considerations.

In the end, what matters most is that you and your supervisor work together to develop a clearly defined timeline for your career goals. These guidelines should be communicated clearly from both parties, meaning that if you have specific career aspirations or needs, your boss knows them.

Likewise, if there are structures in place that limit how fast you can achieve those goals, your boss needs to help define those for you as clearly as possible.

Working within the framework of your corporate or business structure, develop a plan with your boss to achieve your goals. It may take some waiting on your part or proactive mentoring on theirs, but either way, the important part is to ensure you’re both on the same page.

Share the wins

There’s an interesting character in the comedy The IT Crowd who effectively considers themselves to be the “greatest person alive.” This is a result of continued career success, although they’re blissfully unaware of (or unwilling to acknowledge) the way others have contributed to their success.

The best way to demonstrate your humbleness is to share the wins with all of those who have helped you along the way. This will frequently include supervisors who mentored you, trained you, or gave you opportunities to learn and grow. Without their help, you wouldn’t be where you are today. All of us can think of at least one person who took us under their wing to shape and mold us into the person we are today.

While our response to their coaching was ultimately in our hands, we must share the wins with those who have helped us. Communicate those stories with your boss, clearly showing them that you recognize how others have influenced you while, at the same time, communicating to them that you’re also open to being mentored by them as well.

Communicating up is an essential part of career growth

Everyone has a unique personality, which we can often see in their DISC style. Leverage your boss’s DISC makeup so that you’re able to “speak their language” while working with them to develop realistic timelines for your career goals. Be open with them about how you got where you are, sharing the wins with those who mentored or coached you. Let your boss see your humble side and that you’re receptive to their help and guidance as well.

Finally, let me know if you need help navigating any of these tips. From understanding your DISC style to laying out a career growth plan, I’m here to help! I look forward to meeting you and helping you better communicate with your supervisor.


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