How to Appropriately Bring Problems to Your Boss
Supervisors exist to solve on-the-job problems. But that doesn’t mean they like it. Here are some steps to making your boss (and you) happier when dealing with office problems.
The first step is being clear about the exact problem. In order for your boss to wrap her mind around a possible solution, she’ll need to know precisely what’s wrong. Take a moment to outline the issue.
- What is the precise problem?
- How did this problem develop?
- Who is involved and to what extent?
- Am I missing some small but important element?
- Am I not seeing the bigger picture?
You might not share all these elements with your boss, but if she asks, you should be prepared with the answers.
Once you have a clear picture of the issue, ensure that it’s not something you or your colleagues can’t handle yourselves. Your boss has a lot of things coming at her on a daily basis, so taking something off her plate is always appreciated. If you’re unsure, however, then do bring it to her attention.
Know Your Audience
Some office dynamics require swift, rapid-fire interactions: Here’s the problem. Here’s the solution. Boom, bang, done. Some offices work the exact opposite: Problems are investigated over a week or two, discussed and brought to committee, and then discussed some more. Your approach should match your office environment.
Furthermore, your boss will have her preferred style. What is the best way to bring problems to her?
Here’s what not to do. Don’t barge in like the world is on fire and fling a massive list of problems in her face. Take time to frame the problem properly.
Part of framing the problem properly is getting yourself in check. Are you angry, desperate, panicked? None of this will present well. You won’t be representing the problem well or yourself as a respected team member. Instead, bring problems to your boss in as calm, collected, and clearheaded a manner as possible.
It sounds easy, but it’s not always. It can be especially hard with an interpersonal issue. I know a highly placed woman in New York finance who has had several team members—men and women—come into her office in tears because of a lingering issue with a coworker. Everyone gets flustered sometimes. It’s OK. But you’re going to get much better results with your boss if you bring her the problem in an easily digestible way.
The whole reason for bosses is their experience and expertise. You don’t need to apologize for not having the answer. You need to politely ask for her help.
Don’t fall into the trap of not bringing up a problem just because you don’t have an answer. It’s fine to not have an answer. That’s why you need help.
However, before bringing a problem to your boss, it might be helpful to brainstorm a few solutions to share with her. Put yourself in your boss’s shoes. Would you respect an employee who only complains about problems, or one who recognizes problems and who is thoughtful enough to also come up with some solutions. Chances are, all you’ll need is the boss’s OK to charge ahead.
Listen and Implement
The worst thing you can do is bring a problem to your boss and then ignore the solution. You need to listen, take notes, and then follow through. Listen and execute the boss’s solution without grumbling. Someone who learns from mistakes, learns to handle different situations, and knows how to take direction is an ideal employee—one who will be trusted with greater responsibility in the future.