How do I share something challenging with my supervisor?

Here are some tips to help you bring your concerns to your boss

[Editor’s note: This is the seventh installment in Jennifer Abrams’ ‘Personal Development’ column for eSchool News. In her columns, Abrams focuses on leadership skills for anyone working in a school or district. Read more about the column here.]  

Almost everyone of us has someone we work with who is “above us” on the hierarchy. A principal, a manager, a department chair, a director, an assistant superintendent, the boss. These people work with us, but also have the role of providing supervision or holding us accountable for our progress. So we are in some ways, at some times, intimidated by them.

It is hard to share a truth or give your feedback to someone who you feel is “above you.” And yet, those who are on the ground doing the work have valuable insight into the inner workings of a school, a perspective that needs to be heard, and we need to provide our input. How do we do so when we feel it might be a challenge to hear our feedback? A few tips:

1. Ask for permission. Start with, “I have a few ideas that I think would make this project move forward more smoothly. Is this a good time to share them?” or “I think I am seeing things from a different perspective. Would you like to hear what I am seeing from where I sit?”

Asking your supervisor if they have time and are open to listening to your point of view is a courteous way to approach and provides some assurance they are ready for the feedback you want to offer.

2. Be ready with suggestions for change. Don’t offer judgments to them alone. Don’t just state, “Your idea didn’t work. It needs to be better.” And don’t just complain. “We are overwhelmed and as the boss you should do something about it.” Feedback that is said in a humane way and is also growth producing comes with possible solutions or next steps.

I have heard stories of people assuming that because a person is a supervisor they should know what to do differently and so the people offered nothing concrete in terms of next steps.

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