If you’re afraid to talk to your boss, you are in good company. I don’t mean just saying hello or telling them about something you’re working on. I mean real one-on-one communication. Letting them know your true needs and concerns — and finding out what they expect of you.
You might be surprised how many people feel shy or uncomfortable about having an honest discussion with their boss. Maybe your boss scares you. Or maybe you’re just afraid to talk to people in authority in general.
Reasons you might be afraid to talk to your boss
- Can we blame our parents? – Often the way we deal with authority figures can find its roots in our childhood. That’s not to “blame” anyone. It’s just that the steepness or shallowness of your familial pecking order can influence how you talk — or don’t talk — to a boss now. Whether your ideas were welcomed in your childhood. How much say and presence you had in the household. And how that made you feel.
If you felt comfortable expressing honest thoughts and feelings growing up, odds are it’s easier for you as an adult to believe your thoughts add value. And that your boss would respect you for speaking to them like a real person — and not an unapproachable power-wielding tyrant.
- Your boss really is a bully – Not all workplaces are ideal. Some actually are ruled by tyrant bullies. And in that case, speaking up can have very real consequences. Not that you should tell even the nicest boss they are wrong in a lecturing tone, but a bully boss can feel attacked even when you offer useful suggestions. They see it as personal criticism.
- Maybe you feel shy about expressing opinions in general – Whether you are an introvert or just plain shy (there is a difference), each personality type may find the idea of talking to a boss stressful. If you are shy, you don’t want to invite negative judgments. And if you’re an introvert (like me), you prefer to minimize drama / stress of any kind.
- You worry your boss will hold your ideas against you – Even if they smile and welcome your feedback, some bosses might store the memory of what you said to throw back at you at a later time. Not what a good manager should do, in fact quite the opposite.
- Coworkers might judge you as a kiss up – Some people worry that by speaking with their boss on a regular basis they will look like brown-nosers. Often to fit in with coworkers, people will back off from creating their own relationship with the boss. And they might fear retaliation of some kind — or at least being frozen out of “the gang” and what is really being said by others they work with.
- You just don’t see the point – Perhaps you’re just there until you can get to a better job. Or maybe you’ve seen ideas and suggestions from others that go nowhere. So why bother? Unless you are absolutely sure what you say will benefit YOU now, why risk speaking up — or simply why even make the effort?
Why it’s worth the effort if at all possible
If you have a boss or workplace where you absolutely cannot speak up — or have been told not to — or have tried and failed more than once, then keeping your thoughts to yourself might make sense. That said, it’s worth carefully evaluating that conclusion. And it’s also worth re-evaluating your job in light of what you really want and deserve for yourself.
But in most cases, it’s worth making the effort to establish regular lines of communication with your boss. Even if it takes a while, you can become a more active part of your own work experience. And by not feeling like an outsider or someone lurking in the shadows, you yourself start to grow as an individual. That’s something you can take with you wherever you go.
Where you can start
If you’re afraid to talk to your boss, change comes simply by starting small. Initially, you might simply ask to meet with your boss for feedback on your performance and any suggestions they might have to help you improve. This way you are still showing respect for their position and ability.
Also, be prepared in case they ask you for ideas. They might not ask, but good to have an idea or two ready just in case. And when you offer suggestions, always remember this is not about “fixing” your boss (even if they need it), but instead things like improving productivity and making the place better for all.
After that, occasionally check in with good news about progress on projects or anything positive. This way you’re not always seen as the one coming to criticize or report problems. Slowly, once the relationship starts building, you’ll find ways to communicate more openly about all kinds of things.
It takes time to build a solid work relationship.
But each small step along the way can help make it easier.
What about you? Are you afraid to talk to your boss? We’d love to hear your story.
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