How to speak to your boss effectively

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Speaking to your boss effectively helps build your credibility. The better you are at dealing with your boss, the better you will be at your job.

Effective workplace communication

High power distance vs. low power distance culture:

High power distance
In workplaces where there is high power distance culture, the boss is the boss is the boss. This means that the boss makes the decisions and employees can only agree. Employees do not question their superiors and rely on them for direction.

Low power distance
Workplaces in Canada have a low power distance culture. This means that employees have a greater influence on how work gets done. They can contribute ideas and challenge their bosses’ decisions (if needed). Employees do not need permission to do their job.

(Paul A. Holmes, Workplace Integration desk reference for newcomers to Canada).

You have to adjust if you are used to a high power distance culture. Understanding Canadian workplace culture will help you communicate better with everyone, especially your boss. Focus on these five points:

  1. Egalitarianism and informality

    Egalitarianism is the belief that all people are equal. In the Canadian workplace, everyone deserves respect. You will see this displayed in many ways. For example:

    • everyone calls each other by their first name
    • all employees can speak freely about work matters
    • employees are active about their responsibilities and personal growth

    Newcomer tip: Is it hard for you to call your boss by first name? Call them by their last name when meeting them for the first time (for example: “I’m pleased to meet you Ms. Thiessen or Mr. Smith”). They will tell you to call them by their first name when they hear this. Follow them. Never use titles like “sir” or “ma’am.”

  2. Establishing credibility

    What does building your credibility mean? It is proving your worth or showing that you have the ability to do your job. It builds your supervisor’s confidence in you. Speak up, say your opinions and participate to build credibility:

    • Suggest ideas, offer solutions and speak up when you see possible issues or problems.
    • Don’t ask your boss for permission to do your job.
    • Defend your ideas, actions and decisions.
    • Correct your boss or challenge a decision when it is within your expertise.
    • Say no to unsafe work or unfair labour practices. It is illegal for employers not to follow employment standards.
    • Ask when you don’t understand. You won’t lose face. Asking shows that you want to do the job right. It builds your credibility.

    Newcomer tip: Respect is important in workplace communication. How you speak when you object, correct, suggest, or ask questions matters when talking to your boss, co-workers or clients. Observe and follow the Canadian style of communication.

  3. The Canadian style of communication

    Use the 3C’s of Canadian communication:

    • Clarity – Deliver a clear message. Use clear and respectful language.
    • Coherence – Be easy to understand. Explain what you mean if needed.
    • Conciseness – Be brief. Say the most important message first. Keep your message professional.
    • Use language softeners – Don’t tell, suggest. Say “perhaps/maybe you could?” or “do you think it will be better if…”. Use “please” or “would you mind?” when asking for something. People usually say “thanks” to close a conversation.
    • Body language

      Gestures and facial expressions help you communicate. These non-verbal signals help you appear confident, approachable and engaging:

      • Eye contact – This shows that you are interested and attentive. Do not look at your mobile phone when someone is talking to you. This is disrespectful.
      • A good handshake – Normally, a firm (but not crushing) handshake is a sign of mutual respect. Wave, make a peace or “namaste” sign instead to maintain physical distancing.
      • An open posture – Don’t slouch or look down. Don’t cross your arms in front of you. This body language says that you don’t want to talk to anyone. Sit straight and lean into the direction of the person you’re talking to.
      • Facial expressions – Have an open and friendly expression. Don’t frown or look grumpy.

      Newcomer tip: Observe your boss’s communication style. Try to adapt and copy what you see when you communicate.

    • Give solutions

      Have a complete message when you talk to your boss. Think ahead. Anticipate questions and have answers ready. Offer solutions and ideas.

      Newcomer tip: Don’t blame others. Focus on solutions when faced with a workplace problem. Suggest solutions respectfully. You can say “perhaps, it will help to…” or “maybe we should try …”

Sources: Workplace Integration desk reference for newcomers to Canada, Paul A. Holmes and How to effectively talk to your boss: 20 dos and don’ts, Joana Zambas, Career Addict. Retrieved August 27, 2019.

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