Office Etiquette: How to Make Suggestions to Your Boss

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where she writes about education, online colleges, and the future of online degrees. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

I don’t know about you, but being an overachieving workaholic of a woman means that I’m always thinking about how to improve things. This includes processes, relationships, products, services, and anything else that might be related to my work, but unfortunately, I’m not in charge of those things. My boss is. So how do I tell her that I think she’s doing it wrong?

Well, I certainly don’t use those words, for starters. Tact and timing are half the battle, and the rest can be fought using these tips for making suggestions to your boss. So if you’re witnessing a painfully misguided shipping process, a glaring error on the company website, or a total lack of process documentation (all frustrations that come with my job), here’s how to tackle them successfully.

1. Take Notes
If you’re frustrated by something at work that isn’t quite perfect, make a note of it. If you don’t write it down, it will be more difficult to remember exactly what’s bothering you, making it impossible to convince your boss to change it. It also helps if you can approach your boss with a legal pad full of official-looking notes about the problem. This indicates that you’ve done your homework and that you aren’t just complaining about something petty.

2. Seek Corroboration
Got a problem? Get a witness. If you can find someone else at work to notice the problem and agree that it needs attention, you’ll go much farther in your efforts to fix it. When your boss sees that you aren’t the only one noticing the issue, he or she will be more likely to take your comments seriously.

3. Timing & Tact
Try to schedule a short meeting with your boss at a time when he or she will be open to hearing what you have to say. Don’t bring up a problem if your boss has just returned from a meeting with the accountant, for example. See if you can grab that valuable time slot right after lunch and before meetings when your boss should be feeling reasonably mellow. Then, state your case in a positive way that doesn’t implicate your boss as the reason for the problem. Simply let your boss know that you’ve noticed a problem in the workplace, don’t blame anyone for it or give names, and say that you have a few ideas that might help.

4. Give Specific Examples
Without naming coworkers, describe the problem in detail and give examples. Refer to your notes if you need to, but make sure you’re specific and accurate. A vague description will make you look unprepared, unobservant, and downright whiny. You can even try using a visual aid like a graph or chart to make your point, which is something that has worked for me in the past. It might seem over-the-top, but it has “serious” written all over it.

5. Make Professional Suggestions
Do your homework beforehand so you can suggest solutions to the problem. For example, you might tell your boss that you’ve learned about a specific strategy that seems to be working for IBM, then describe how it might be translated to your company. A simple online search, some Q&A; with your LinkedIn colleagues, or some company website snooping can get you the information you need quickly and easily.

Wrap things up by asking your boss to think about your suggestions, setting a date and time for a quick follow-up meeting, and thanking him or her for taking the time to listen to you.

You have nothing to lose but a frustrating problem, so don’t hesitate to use these tips for the big issues that confront you on the job.  Good luck!

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About Anna Runyan

Anna Runyan is a Leadership Coach, Author and Professor of Management who helps corporations develop their leaders. She leverages her 7 years of corporate consulting, hiring experience, teaching background and her passion for helping professional men and women accelerate their careers and get ahead. Make sure you sign up for her FREE leadership course and her weekly career report here.

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