Communicating effectively with your boss is critical to your job satisfaction, performance and safety.
Not all managers are good listeners, and not all drivers are great talkers, so here are some tips on how to get your messages across so that they’re heard and acted on.
With a good working relationship, you can effectively disagree and solve problems. The key is to be respectful and constructive; working together is easier than working against each other.
The number-one factor is honesty. If you’re not truthful with your bosses, then you’re taking a big risk. Telling the truth is always the best option, even if it lands you in trouble.
“I think if you’re courteous and factual, you can talk about anything,” said Martin Corry, former driver and head of transport at a national dangerous goods operator.
Now NTI’s customer and industry relationship manager, he says the three most important things to get right about communications are:
• Think about what you want to say and why you want to say it
• Be courteous and kind when you’re speaking
• Pick your time to send your message or approach your boss
Think about what you want to say
It’s never a good idea to go in hot, Corry said. If you’re angry or frustrated, you don’t want your emotions to get the better of you.
“I think if there’s an issue, and you’ve got an emotional attachment to it, my advice is always to wait,” he said.
The best thing to do is cool off, go home and jot it down. Read your note in the morning, and if you still feel the same way, then go and have a chat about it with the boss. You want a proper solution to whatever’s got you wound up; the best way to make that happen is to be calm and rational.
“Things get taken out of context when people go at it full tilt,” Corry said.
“And if it’s something serious, the message can get lost in the emotions.”
Try not to complain – instead, be constructive and go with solutions or ideas.
Be courteous and kind
When you’re in the right frame of mind to talk with your boss, don’t forget to be polite. Good manners will take you a long way because if you’re polite, the person you’re talking to will listen rather than getting defensive and dismissing what you’re saying.
“Just be honest and courteous. That’s it,” Corry said. For example, if you can’t do an extra shift because you’ve got commitments, “you’ve just got to voice that. Say ‘look, this is what I’ve got on’ and tell them straight.”
Suppose the person you’re talking is on the defensive. In that case, they won’t be listening to what you’re saying and thinking about how to help fix the situation.
Pick your time
Timing can play a big role in the success of your emails or conversations. You want to pick a time when the manager can pay attention and properly consider what you’re saying.
“There’s no point in trying to have a conversation in the first hour of a Monday morning or the last hour on a Friday,” Corry said. “The head’s just not in the right space.”
“Always ask, ‘What’s the best time to catch up? When are you free? Can I come in a bit early or stay a bit late?’.”
Respecting other people’s time helps make sure you get a fair hearing from your manager. They’ll be concentrating on your message rather than trying to keep up with what you’re saying while they’re doing something else.
If your boss lacks experience or skills, then offer your help. Without being threatening or overly critical, ask them what they want from you. It’ll build a strong relationship, and if they think you’ve got their back, they’ll have yours.
Managing difficult conversations
Not every conversation is great. If you’ve made a mistake or are in strife, the same rules apply: be truthful, think about what you say, and be courteous. If you’ve got control over a conversation’s timing, consider the other person’s schedule too.
Sometimes we have to hear things we don’t like or want to hear, such as feedback on our work performance.
Don’t avoid problems, suck up, manipulate, hide things or play politics. You don’t have to roll over either; everyone is entitled to a view. As someone with first-hand experience of the job and the road, your perspective can help your boss understand.
Getting and giving feedback can be tough, but in the long term, it’s worthwhile. It’ll help your relationship with the boss and help you both improve.
Honesty is the best policy
“Any time there’s a communication, there’s an opportunity for something,” Corry said.
“Whether it’s selling something, whether it’s improving something, whether it’s giving some feedback, whether it’s taking some reflection and review on your own performance, every time there’s a communication, there’s an opportunity for improvement somewhere.”
So, make the most of your opportunities for improvement by always being honest, then keeping Corry’s three tips in mind. Thinking about what you’re saying, being courteous and getting the timing right are the best ways to be heard.
It’s not always easy, but if it gets the results and responses you’re looking for, then it’s well worth the effort.