Talking to the higher-ups at work is an art. You want to be deferential—but you don’t want to get stepped on. Whether you want to make your 9-to-5 less bored-to-death, or you feel you aren’t getting the benefits you deserve, speak up. We’ll help you stand up to your boss and maybe even move up the ladder.
1“What is my role?”
Employees perform best when they understand why their roles are important and how they are making an impact, says YouBeauty Happiness Expert and professional workplace consultant Matthew Della Porta, Ph.D. If you’re not sure of your place within the company, ask your boss to clarify your job description and what he or she sees as your main purpose. This will help nurture a sense of pride in your position and make it easier to do your job well.
2“I’d like to take on more responsibility.”
All too often, workers feel controlled and powerless at their jobs, resulting in apathy and a lack of commitment to their organization, says Della Porta. If you feel that your work isn’t challenging, or if you’re bored all the time, taking on more might be what you need to stimulate your mind and your energies, and make the days feel like less of a drag. Being busy but engaged feels a whole lot better than being underutilized.
3“What can I do to advance in the company?”
Nobody wants to be in a dead-end job. It’s motivating to know that you have upward mobility within your organization. Inquire about advancement potential and make clear efforts to put yourself in a position to move up. Maybe you can lead a team project, or volunteer to take over for a co-worker who’s going on leave. “It is crucial that someone aiming to take a leadership role be recognized as a leader,” says Art Markman, Ph.D., author of “Habits of Leadership” and YouBeauty’s Psychology Expert.
4“Can we talk?”
Sometimes you have the boss from hell. If the devil in the corner office is giving you an unfairly hard time, you can confront her face to face. Don’t do it reactively after one of her attacks, but do it proactively when the water is calm. Be frank, but in a very deferential manner. Remember, you’re trying to get her off your back, not convince her she’s a bully.
Be specific and be direct, for example, “Thanks for meeting with me. I want to talk about [your main area of concern]. Is there a way we could work things out to solve this problem? I hate to ask this of you because you’re the boss, but I am hoping we can think of a good solution together.” You might have to do this two or more times before you see any change.
Many Americans are finding that their work-life balance is tipping too far toward the office. Employers have ample opportunities to reach out to overburdened employees—but, Della Porta warns, sometimes you have to ask. Talk to your manager about opportunities for flextime, childcare, eldercare, financial management assistance and maternity leave. You should also be able to rely on your employer to provide information about programs that promote weight loss, smoking cessation and stress management, along with access to a fitness facility on-site or nearby.
6“I’d like a raise.”
Research indicates that one factor contributing to the income gap between men and women is that women don’t negotiate their starting salaries. One study revealed that when a salary was advertised as fixed, women took it without a fight, whereas men were more likely to raise a stink. When you’ve been at your job for a while, you might come to see your salary as a static thing. It’s not. If you have increased your workload or responsibility since the last time you got a wage increase, or feel you have otherwise earned a pay bump, ask for one. Present a clear argument for why you deserve more and show your boss what you’re really worth.
7“Let’s not go there.”
It’s great to be friendly with your boss, but getting too close can blur the lines between employer and employee. It can be hard to transition from dishing to taking directives. If things are getting too personal, you can steer the conversation back to a more professional topic, and beg off answering probing questions about your life outside the office. As one partner at a private equity group says, “For me there’s always a basic ground rule: If you’re determining someone’s salary then it’s difficult to be really true friends in the end.”
Tory Johnson, CEO of recruitment services firm Women for Hire, agrees that your boss does not have to be your buddy. “At the end of the day their responsibility is to deliver results. Period.”