An insightful and encouraging boss can make the toughest workdays easier, while a micromanaging and demanding boss can make you want to pull your hair out.
But what happens when you have a decent boss, but they don’t communicate with you?
We asked experts to share their insights on what to do when your boss doesn’t communicate with you.
Let’s find out:
Table of Contents
- Define the problem
- Ask open-ended questions of other people who report to the same person
- Do a proper diagnosis
- You can reduce power distance
- Think about it from your leader’s point of view
- Don’t be afraid to ask for advice
- Find a way to engage with your boss so that they want to engage and communicate with you
- Always consider both sides of the interaction
- If your peers are experiencing the same situation, address it jointly
- Keep it focused on the business impact and don’t personalize it
- Consider their personal life
- Acknowledge that not everyone has the same communication style
- Consider that you may not have found the topic that excites them
- Remember that it’s not always about you
- Consider your tenure
- Try to initiate communication
- Start with the facts
- Ask for your boss’s concerns
- Make sure to communicate when absolutely necessary
- Carve out a regular meeting and make sure to compile all your questions beforehand
- Establish the preferred communication method for unexpected concerns
- Try new communication channels
- Confront the problem head on
- Initiate a regular check-in
- Give them feedback
- Stop negative thoughts, breathe, and take a step back
- Did the conversation just fall off the radar?
- Did the format of communication misconstrue the intent?
- Lead from below
- Take ownership
- Try to figure out why
- Try differerent alternatives to communication and figure out which works best for your boss
- Reset your expectations and learn to cope
- Share why you are interested in hearing from them
- Ask about your boss’s view on your performance
- Take communication initiative
- Seek feedback
- Try to find out why
- Think about priorities
- Why do you want to communicate with your boss?
- Do you need their permission to act?
- Prime for trust
- Communicate with your boss in the style they seem to prefer
- Avoid focusing on your feelings alone
- Start by truly trying to understand the perception of their boss
- Be aware of your boss’s personality type
- Emphasize the need for constructive feedback between you and your boss
- First recognize how you are contributing to the situation
- Be firm in reaching out and asking questions
- Schedule a meeting with your boss
- Check with your co-workers
- Don’t immediately go to your boss’s boss, if you can help it
- Ask for a one-on-one meeting and be sure that you get clear goals
- Address the issue head-on with a few examples ready in case of a discussion
- Seek further guidance from a higher manager
- Ask more questions
- Take charge/initiative
- Figure out you boss’s preferred means of communication
- Take an initiative for a conversation
Laurence J. Stybel, Ed.D.
Co-Founder and President, Stybel Peabody Associates, Inc.
Define the problem
It could be that your boss is not communicating enough with you. It could also be that you require more reassurance than the boss has time to provide you. It could be that you and your boss have different styles of communication.
Ask open-ended questions of other people who report to the same person
By open-ended I refer to questions that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”
“Tell me about the boss’ preferred communication style and how it works for you” is an open-ended request. It allows the person the freedom to answer without being biased by you.
“Does the boss communicate well?” is a closed question that can be answered by “yes” or “no.” It will not get you much information.
Do a proper diagnosis
Is the problem you, the boss, or the relationship between you and the boss?
A follow-up question to ask others who report to the boss is, “On a scale of 0 (not good) to 10 (outstanding) how would you rate the frequency of communication between you and the boss?” Again, this is an open-ended question and allows for the person to answer in his/her own way.
Through these techniques, you will discover if the boss would be open to a request from you for more feedback or simply consider you an immature subordinate who lacks confidence and is wasting my time.
Founder, Approachable Leadership |
Author, The Approachability Playbook: 3 Essential Habits for Thriving Leaders and Teams
More often than not, lack of communication in teams is due to something called power distance.
Power distance is a problem for many leaders – they focus on their authority and don’t always connect with teammates. This hurts both the work environment for employees and negatively impacts productivity, safety, quality and more.
If you notice your boss doesn’t communicate here are a few tips on how to reduce power distance and better connect with your leader:
You can reduce power distance
Power distance is a two-way street (your boss needs to be open to improving the relationship), but you can make the first move. Start by being transparent and explain what specifically you would like more communication on. Pick one topic.
Think about it from your leader’s point of view
How would better communication on this topic make their job easier? How would it help you and your teammates perform better? How would it help them look good to their boss?
Don’t be afraid to ask for advice
Is there anything you can do to improve the situation? Is there anything you’re doing, or any behaviors you display, that might make your boss avoid communication about this topic? Ask for advice about how to make things work.
Closing the power distance gap is essential for strong and healthy work relationships. All parties must be willing participants.
Once you acknowledge the issues and your willingness to improve the situation, the door opens for positive communication to begin.
Master Trainer and Coach, The Kevin Eikenberry Group |
Workplace Conflict Resolution and Communications Expert
Find a way to engage with your boss so that they want to engage and communicate with you
Make yourself easy to communicate with, and position yourself as a person who solves their problems.
My immediate thought in nearly every situation involving interactions between people is to question the premise of the problem statement.
I’m not trying to be snarky or rude. I’m applying an awareness that everyone, including me, is prone to apply personal bias and perspective to questions about the nature and quality of our relationships with others, and, as a result, we attempt to solve a narrowly framed problem rather than look at it broadly.
In this case, the problem is framed as something the boss does or does not do. There are two problems with the framing:
It may or may not be an accurate description of the problem from the bosses perspective, and
It subtly puts the employee in a victim status as the recipient of other people’s actions rather than as an active participant in and a possible contributor to the situation
If I were speaking with a coaching client, I would ask the question: “Are they not communicating with you or do you perceive that they are not communicating with you?”
The challenge in this situation is that the boss might think they are communicating with the employee while the employee does not see or recognize the effort to communicate. The point of the question is not to lay blame – it is to broaden perspective.
The boss might say that they do communicate and that the employee is misreading the situation.
The employee might have done something to convey to the boss that they don’t need, don’t want, and don’t appreciate communication the way the boss offers it.
And, maybe the original problem definition is correct. At this point, we don’t know the real communication problem. We know the employee’s perception of the communication problem. Maybe it’s correct. Maybe it’s not.
Always consider both sides of the interaction
To start addressing the problem, we have to look at it broadly and consider both sides of the interaction.
After the effort to define the situation broadly, I would suggest that the employee consider their bosses communication style preference.
What does the boss like or not like? How does the boss typically phrase suggestions? Does the boss have a similar communication pattern with other employees or is it just with this one employee?
These questions help to frame a view of the bosses’ typical communication patterns and preferences with everyone on the team rather than solely with this one employee.
Once we understand the bosses’ common patterns and preferences, we can make a guess at what the employee can do to make themselves easy to communicate with and to be viewed as a person who solves the bosses problems.
How to do that depends a great deal on our understanding of the bosses’ likes, dislikes, preferences, and patterns of communication.
In my work, I use the DISC model, and there are a number of other behavior and communication style models that you could use.
In my case, I would work with the employee to assess both theirs and their bosses DISC style and then use that understanding to identify potential friction points in their communication so that we could formulate a situation-specific plan to reduce or eliminate the friction and pain points in their interactions that would (hopefully) improve the situation.
Katherine Metres Akbar
When your boss doesn’t communicate with you, you have to work harder to get the communication flowing. Maybe they are just shy or discrete, or maybe they don’t trust you yet.
Now you get to be the boss whisperer. I recommend using a question-asking technique we invented called Interview Aikido.
- Take them to lunch once a quarter and find out what’s going on in their world, personally (without prying) and professionally.
- Find out what they think is working and not working in the department. Ask how you can help.
- You probably also want to make a pitch for having a weekly meeting. Help them see the benefit of doing this, and make the cost in time small.
For example, “I’d like to have a short weekly meeting with you, perhaps 15 or 30 minutes. This way we can talk about what’s working and what’s not working so that I can be the most effective possible in helping you achieve your goals.”
Always keep the focus on their benefit; never act like they owe you their time.
Elene Cafasso, MCC
Executive Mentor and Coach, Enerpace, Inc.
If a client came to me with a situation like this, I’d ask a lot of questions to help decide on the right approach. Key factors to consider:
- Did it just start, or has it always been this way?
- Is it just you or does he/she treat all direct reports this way?
- What else is going on in the organization that may be impacting this?
- What else has changed?
- Does the lack of communication include all modes of communication? Are you still getting email replies but not live conversations?
- What’s the business impact of this lack of communication?
If your peers are experiencing the same situation, address it jointly
Ask your boss to a joint meeting where you state what you’re experiencing without blame. Use empathy to express your hope that everything is ok and to offer to help if you can.
Move to the business impact of the situation and request how you’d like to move forward. If her schedule is over-full, perhaps you can talk during her commute or ask for email replies instead?
If this situation is only occurring with you, talk to a peer you trust. See if they can provide any insights.
If it’s still a mystery, leave your boss a voice mail following the approach above. If he doesn’t reply, send an email. After a week without a reply, I’d ask your HR partner for assistance.
Your boss has a responsibility as a people-leader to make sure her direct reports have what they need to be successful and deliver for the company. You can’t do this if she won’t talk to you.
Keep it focused on the business impact and don’t personalize it
If you can’t get this resolved within a month or so, start creating a plan to find a new role, outside the company or within, as long as you end up with a different manager!
David A. Davila
Learning Facilitator | Advisory Board Member |
Certified Leadership Coach, Leaping Koi
Consider their personal life
If your boss has not been communicating as much as before, it may help to mention you’ve noticed a change in frequency of communication. Perhaps something has happened in their personal life that is affecting them at work?
Remember that your boss is also human and has to balance many different things in their life, just like you. Sometimes even a simple “Are you OK?” can open up a heart-to-heart and build trust.
Acknowledge that not everyone has the same communication style
If your boss has never been very communicative, perhaps it is simply they are just not a very talkative person. First, recognize that not everyone communicates in the same way, and at varying levels of energy.
Consider that you may not have found the topic that excites them
Sharing hobbies, interests, and outside-of0work activities is a way to engage in more energetic conversation. Perhaps you will find that you share some interests in common. This could help improve your relationship with your boss, and likely increase communication.
Business and Personal Coach
The boss that doesn’t communicate may be avoiding you and it takes some specific methods to get him/her to engage in a new way.
When a boss doesn’t communicate there are some pretty interesting methods you can uncover the real issue.
Remember that it’s not always about you
Often, I’ve found through my consulting that there are often other issues at play, including they are simply not friendly, they are introverted, they have a health issue or are in pain, family, or financial crisis. Maybe your boss is carrying too many burdens in their business.
Consider your tenure
Also, it’s possible that you don’t have enough tenure to know the hidden or unspoken rules.
These types of people like to inhibit conversation to keep people in check and most are uncomfortable about their role and haven’t been given training to actually communicate.
It’s important to understand the challenging issues your boss may be working on.
Try to initiate communication
Ask a lot of questions about what they are going through and ask if there is anything you can help get off their plate. Then give some thought to what you can do to help them resolve the issues they’ve introduced you to.
The key is to ask a lot of questions, let your tone show your commitment to your work and the overall success of the business and team.
Once you show your initiative, it can open up a line of communication and level of trust that may not have existed before.
Epigenetic & Executive Coach
As humans, we crave connection. It can be incredibly frustrating when your boss doesn’t communicate with you in an engaging, motivating, or even responsive way.
The stress of repeatedly feeling unseen and unheard eventually causes us to shut down. Over time, our nervous system learns to code that lack of connection, care, or unresponsiveness as exclusion.
The pain centers in our brain activate when we experience exclusion; it’s like getting kicked in the shin.
So how can employees take action, when quitting may not be a feasible option, and ensure they don’t inadvertently exacerbate the problem?
Start with the facts
Our brain’s left hemisphere is all about measurement, evaluation, and comparison. During meetings or 1:1s, share concrete project updates or milestones achieved with your boss.
Ask for your boss’s concerns
Once you’ve got your boss’s attention, move into your right hemisphere—the relational side—by asking about their concerns or any potential roadblocks they might see.
Ask: “What is your biggest concern about this project?” Perhaps they’re concerned they will lose a client or impact the business’s bottom line.
Your next response should show your boss you don’t want that to happen either. Then, reinforce your commitment to the project’s success by applying X, Y, or Z tactics.
Understanding the neurobiological response to communication styles is key to any successful working relationship.
Becoming masterful at vacillating between the left and right hemisphere establishes better long-term workplace relationships and far more effective, engaging communication.
Head of Growth & Marketing, AdQuick
I’ve often found that when a leader is less than communicative, it can be a sign that he or she expects results without a lot of micromanaging.
So, if you’re the type of employee who likes the freedom to develop strategies, implement them, and define projects on your own, then this can be a positive situation.
However, if you often feel the need for reassurance when you’re in unchartered territory, this could be the time to begin to motivate yourself, as well as trust in your own innate abilities.
Make sure to communicate when absolutely necessary
Of course, there are always times when you’ll need to communicate with your boss. However, if you only do so when absolutely necessary, then your efforts to reach out will be met with a clearer sense of importance.
Try it for a week or two, and see if you don’t see personal growth!
Carve out a regular meeting and make sure to compile all your questions beforehand
Additionally, it can be a great idea to try to carve out a few minutes each week or every two weeks to have a quick Zoom call with your boss, as to cover all of your questions at one time, in one place.
Keep notes throughout the week so that you can cover all of your ideas or concerns. For leaders who are short on time or just don’t enjoy frequent communication, this strategy can help you accomplish quite a bit during a short call.
Establish the preferred communication method for unexpected concerns
But, when things come up unexpectedly, as they always do, discuss which method of communication your boss prefers. Perhaps a quick Slack message is better than having to open, read, and reply to an email.
Whenever you illustrate that you want to be as accommodating as possible, the interruption will be received in a different, less intrusive manner.
Customer Success Manager, StaffConnect
Communication is a fundamental necessity for any business that wants to achieve success.
Communication ensures that:
- Every employee understands their role
- Engagement levels are as high as possible
- Tasks are done in an efficient and effective way
For organisations to create a fully streamlined comms network, it’s important that those at the top lead by example. But when the managers in charge fail to communicate effectively, the costs are far greater than simple misunderstandings.
The damage that can result from ineffective communication is great, with poor communication having detrimental effects on businesses reputations, employee engagement, and bottom line.
For employees left frustrated by their boss’ communication (or lack thereof), facing the issue head on can be daunting. However, for things to change, communicating the problem is the first step.
If you’re unsure what to do when your boss doesn’t communicate with you, here are some tips you can try:
Try new communication channels
Your boss might seem unresponsive when you communicate, but this could be down to the channel you’re using.
Experimenting with other methods for your communication could be all that’s needed to break down the barrier. This could mean using the phone or instant messaging if email isn’t working, for example.
Confront the problem head on
Nothing beats a one-on-one conversation. If you want to resolve the communication issues you’re experiencing quickly, a face-to-face, open conversation is the best way to do it.
Write down key points in advance to make sure you stay on topic, and follow up on the discussion as required.
Initiate a regular check-in
If you want to maintain regular communication with your boss formally, ask for a regular check-in to talk.
Give them feedback
They may be your manager, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give them feedback, too.
If you really want to help your boss improve their comms skills, providing constructive feedback will provide valuable advice to help them improve.
Director of Human Resources, Fracture
Perception is reality. So what do you do when your boss doesn’t communicate with you? This emotion causes many feelings and questions to swirl inside your head. Am I getting fired? What did I do wrong? Why aren’t they talking to me? They must not like me.
Stop negative thoughts, breathe, and take a step back
Remove the emotional aspects of the thoughts running through your head, and list out the specific examples that come to mind of when they didn’t communicate with you.
This might sound simple but this exercise is impactful in getting to the root of the why you’re feeling the way you are.
Removing your emotion and personal bias that feeds the feeling of not being heard is important and you have to reach those concrete examples.
Review those examples through a professional business lens and determine where the lack of or breakdown in communication occurred.
Are you sure your boss heard you? If you are passing by them in the hallway or their office and quickly shout out something their way, make sure they heard you.
Stopping first to check and see if it’s a good time to talk, making eye contact, and getting responses back are good indicators they’ve heard you.
Did the conversation just fall off the radar?
If yes, use a task tracking tool to keep track of your project/conversation if action items are due and include due dates.
Many tech tools like Asana, Trello, and JIRA allow for the ‘owner’ to be changed to better keep track.
Did the format of communication misconstrue the intent?
Know when to stop emailing or chatting online and meet up in person. So much gets lost in the written text which doesn’t include tone, the inflection in the voice, or body language.
Don’t underestimate the power of one-on-one engagement.
If in-person isn’t an option, use a tool like Slack Video Call or Zoom to still get a minimal human connection.
The bottom line is, you’ve made a determination that your boss isn’t communicating with you. It is your responsibility to care enough about the working relationship to open the door with them and discuss what is going on.
Your goal should be to find out if there are bonafide issues or concerns that need to be addressed. Be prepared to hear some constructive feedback, or find out it’s a simple case of nothing.
Relationship building in the workplace is important for the success of the employee and the manager. Don’t let a feeling or issue like this fester. It only ends up blowing like a volcano.
Reach out to your HR Team if you feel you need guidance or support.
Founder and CEO, Priority VA
Lead from below
Bosses, supervisors, and business owners have an agenda and to-do lists that are a mile long. Most often, it doesn’t directly involve the people they supervise.
In working with hundreds of CEOs, founders, and owners for the last 8 years, we’ve found that most often, the lack of communication is not intentional.
If you find yourself in a place where your boss isn’t communicating with you, take ownership of the communication.
Request a meeting regarding the specific need you have. Do your homework first. Check their calendar. Message them to say, “I see you have time on Tuesday at 10, can we meet for 15 minutes to go over questions I have about the report requirements?”
This level of communication lets them know exactly what you need and how much of their time will be involved.
Come to the meeting prepared with an agenda and all your questions about the topic at hand. Then stay on topic and end the meeting on time. Agree to send any follow-up questions or results via email or your company’s preferred method of communication.
This sets up a professional framework for you to continue to get communication from your boss on a regular basis.
Managing Partner and CEO, Shapiro Negotiations Institute
Try to figure out why
Does he/she generally not communicate with anyone? If so, then you likely aren’t going to change them and need to adjust your expectations.
If it is just with you, it will need to, at some point, in some way, be addressed and likely a symptom of a bigger situation.
It could be that he/she thinks you are a lost cause and doesn’t want to invest too much time, however, it could also be, as counterintuitive as it might sound, that they feel you are a Rockstar so they don’t need to micromanage you.
Try differerent alternatives to communication and figure out which works best for your boss
If the communication issue is not with everyone, try to figure out the best way to communicate with him/her. Is it Phone? Email? Video call? In person meeting? Does it take the form of frequent shorter check-ins? Once a month schedule meetings?
Try different alternatives to see how they work, but give them time, otherwise it can be frustrating for both of you and make things worse.
Reset your expectations and learn to cope
Understand that it may not change or get better, so, reset your expectations and learn to cope. In our negotiation and influence training, we often teach people to manage expectations you need to remember Satisfaction = Reality/Expectations.
In other words, if you lower your expectations but the reality stays the same, you are more satisfied. Use that to more advantage!
Founder, Pozzo Consulting
If the boss doesn’t communicate with anyone, the employee can set a meeting to ask questions that are top of mind.
It is important not to tell the boss they are a bad communicator, that will only shut the conversation down and put the boss on the defensive. Rather, go in with a set of questions and share why you are interested in hearing about them.
An example would be: “I’m really interested in hearing about your priorities so I can make sure I’m focused on the right things.”
If the boss is only not communicating with you, that is a bad sign. Something is off in the relationship.
Ask about your boss’s view on your performance
If you are a strong performer, then set time to meet and discuss your concerns. Don’t put the boss on the defensive by accusing them of singling you out.
Rather, indicate you don’t feel like you are on the same page and ask what you can do to improve communications.
If you are a poor performer, it is possible your job is at risk. Many times when a boss has made a decision about parting ways, communication declines.
If you think that is the case, ask about how the boss is viewing your performance and what steps you can take to turn things around.
Leadership Development Strategist |
CEO, Talent Grow | Creator and Host, The TalentGrow Show Podcast
Take communication initiative
Communicate with your boss proactively. Give your manager updates even if he or she doesn’t ask for them.
Make them short and to the point, but by communicating frequently in a succinct way, especially at the beginning of your work together, you will achieve a couple of different and equally important outcomes:
First, you’ll ensure you’re doing the right things and will create an opportunity for course corrections before things are too far down the wrong path.
Second, you’ll begin to build a pattern of reliability with your manager where you say you’ll do something (in this case, you say you’ll send a weekly update email) and then you do it.
Our brains seek data on reliability to build trust – it’s one of the key components of trustworthiness.
Initiate a conversation with your boss (and make it an in-person conversation or on video conference, not one conducted via email) where you ask for feedback.
Explain that you want to better understand his/her expectations and preferences and get input on how they think you’re working together.
In that conversation, be curious to pick up explicit and implicit cues and clues about their communication preferences, assumptions, and reactions to your current working relationship and process.
It will help you not only understand how they see things from their vantage point (not just your own perspective), but also will create an opening for you to make a request for more or different ways to communicate and see how that lands.
Sometimes, your boss just doesn’t realize that they’re not giving you what you need, and with this conversation will realize and gladly embrace opportunities to tweak their approach.
Tom Noser, M.Ed.
Speaker | Author | Founder, Fortune’s Path, LLC
Try to find out why
There are many reasons your boss might ghost you. Not all of them are bad. Perhaps the lack of communication is a sign of trust.
Look around the business at what your boss’s peers are doing, and particularly what your boss’s boss is doing.
If they’re running between priorities and fighting alligators, your boss’s lack of communication is probably not about you.
Think about priorities
It’s a sad truth that for most of us our boss is more important to us than we are to them. You just may not be a priority for your boss.
We’re hired to do a job. For most bosses, if the job is getting done, what is there to talk about?
Don’t take this personally. It’s a license to do more. Interpreting silence as acceptance is a defensible position in the business.
Why do you want to communicate with your boss?
What are you wanting to communicate about? If it’s a weekly or monthly update, and your boss keeps canceling, that’s their problem. Update meetings are a waste of time anyway. Put it in an email.
If you’re looking for feedback, ask your peers. If they have the same boss you do, they’re likely as in the dark as you are. Peers are better sources for feedback than bosses anyway, particularly if they don’t work in the same company you do.
Seek out mentors outside your organization. One of them might turn out to be your next boss, who could be a lot better than the unresponsive one you have now.
Do you need their permission to act?
If you need to get permission before you can move forward, and you’re in a constant “hurry up and wait” mode, you need a new boss.
Use the time from the canceled meetings and unanswered emails to network for your next job.
Unfortunately, many leaders are poor communicators; perhaps most difficult of all are those who do not communicate at all as opposed to those that try but fail for whatever the reason.
Prime for trust
When the boss doesn’t communicate at all, there usually is a way to help them open communication to some degree.
That takes a lot of patience and understanding and showing you are on your boss’s side (people can usually tell when someone is sincere and helping or have another less helpful agenda).
Trust often is one of the barriers to communication. That is why the step of priming for trust in a conversation is so important. It opens the door to conversations that are mutually beneficial to the individuals and ultimately to the business.
Priming for trust starts with you first asking questions of yourself such as:
- How can I establish rapport? (what have I tried? If I tried and it didn’t work, how can I pivot to a new way? Is there another person in the company that I am aware of that communicates well with this individual? What can I learn from them)
- How can I create a safe environment?
- What actions, thoughts, or words will enable the other person to shift from protect to partner?
- How can I approach the people or person I am interacting with caring, candor, and courage?
- What actions, thoughts, or words will bridge between our realities?
- What actions, thoughts, or words will enable us to listen to connect and relax judgment and ignite a sense of co-creation?
To the extent you are successful in getting at least something useful to work with from the boss, I’d then suggest moving to what we call Reframe, Refocus, Redirect.
When you’re having a conversation with your boss, and you don’t feel like you’re getting all of what you need, try stating the question differently (reframe). Or share your understanding of what’s being said (refocus).
You might respond with a question along the lines of “What I understand you’re asking me to do is_______” or, “What I hear you saying is that you want me to _… and fill in the blank with your perspective.
That will allow your boss to understand what you’re hearing in the conversation, and then redirection can happen if necessary.
Previous Senior Strategist | Founder, Whyzze
Since communication means an exchange of information or news, there are three initial questions to ask yourself when attempting to navigate issues with a non-communicative boss:
- What information do you need to know or exchange?
- Why do you need to know or exchange this information?
- How is the company, your department, or the project you’re working on being adversely affected without this information or exchange?
Next, you’ll want to communicate the answers to these questions directly to your boss.
Communicate with your boss in the style they seem to prefer
If they avoid calls, rarely engage on the company messaging platforms, and typically only send short, to-the-point emails, you should follow suit.
Mirroring your boss’s communication style will increase the chances of your message getting your superior’s attention.
Avoid focusing on your feelings alone
In addition, you’ll notice there’s nothing noted about bringing your feelings or opinions into the conversation.
I recently spoke with a colleague who was lamenting that she wished her boss would be more transparent and communicate about what’s going on within the organization.
However, when we went through the exercise above it became obvious that her main issue was feeling “left out” and “generally uninformed”.
Now, this isn’t to say that a superior who doesn’t communicate or communicates poorly isn’t doing anything wrong – poor communication is often the nail in the coffin for business success, employee retention, and customer satisfaction.
However, unless you’re looking to change jobs, you need to be able to clearly articulate what the lack of communication means to the bottom line.
Unfortunately, that’s probably one of only a few arguments that will change your boss’s mind and/or behavior.
Remote Work Consultant
Start by truly trying to understand the perception of their boss
In order to uncover the gaps and determine the best possible solutions, employees have to step out of their own wants and needs. The first step is by asking the following questions as if they were the boss.
- How would my boss describe how he/she communicates?
- Does he/she think the amount of communication is appropriate for my role and responsibilities?
- What is the manner my boss prefers to communicate and is that how we currently communicate?
- Whom else could I communicate with?
- Why is the lack of communication a problem?
It may seem pretty simple and straightforward to have a boss communicate with you. However, being a boss comes with a lot of responsibilities. The ability to be a great communicator is certainly a desired trait but not always the norm.
If communication is the employee’s strength then he/she will want to use this to their advantage and find solutions. Not point fingers.
Often this doesn’t happen because part of communicating is having difficult conversations. Difficult conversations where one person has looked at their own issues from all angles but not the other person’s.
Most people don’t enjoy having conversations that can be uncomfortable or when they don’t know what the outcome will be.
When the employee does their due diligence and helps their boss strategize on how to be better it shows empathy for the role their boss has, care and ownership of the employee’s role, and how they both serve the company.
It is much easier to begin what could possibly be a difficult conversation when you come to the conversation with possible win-win solutions in mind.
CEO and Co-Founder, Virtual Vocations
If your boss is uncommunicative, it could be for a plethora of reasons, many that have nothing to do with you, your career, or how much they enjoy working with you.
Be aware of your boss’s personality type
It helps to be aware of your boss’s personality type: are they more introverted or extroverted in their communication style with others?
This could tell you if they just prefer a certain type of communication—say, written vs. in-person conversations—or, if they seem extroverted with others but not you, that could indicate a different issue; perhaps they don’t know you as well, for example.
No matter the case, if your boss’s non-communication seems directed toward you in particular, you will want to broach the topic with them of when and how they would prefer you to keep them updated on your work.
Most bosses will appreciate an employee who takes the initiative to reach out to them and update them on projects, so don’t be afraid to ask them directly how often they’d like to touch base.
Senior Partner, Partners In Leadership
Consistent communication is an essential skill leaders need to hone, especially when employees are working from home.
Emphasize the need for constructive feedback between you and your boss
If your boss is not utilizing communication lines on their own, it’s beneficial for employees to ask their leaders for regular feedback.
Finding the time to ask for feedback at work isn’t always easy or comfortable — but it’s essential for sustained business success. It’s hard for frontline employees and leaders alike to evolve when they don’t know where they need to improve.
When conducting a feedback exchange, start by giving appreciative and constructive feedback and make sure you tie each point to a key result your company is aiming to achieve.
After you have shared your feedback, ask your boss, “What feedback do you have for me?”
Keeping consistent focused feedback exchanges encourages your boss to keep communication flowing and clear up any confusion that has set in among employees.
When employees and leaders view feedback as empowering, rather than something to be feared, they remove hurdles that once stood in the way of meeting their top results.
Asking open-ended questions, participating in regular feedback sessions, and responding openly to constructive feedback all help create a culture where feedback can flourish.
Miranda Wilcox, MA, PCC
Leadership Coach | Founder, Thrive Potential, LLC
When communication doesn’t happen the way we’d like, we often get stuck inside our own feelings, fears, and wants. This causes us to create internal narratives that work against what we actually want to happen.
If I have a boss who doesn’t communicate with me, I might feel uncertain, fear my job is at stake, and wish she would reach out to me. I then tell myself something like, “She doesn’t value me. I’m going to get fired.” And that, of course, freaks me out.
My emotional self hijacks my logical self, and I enter fight or flight mode. That causes me to either retreat (e.g., dodge her calls, curtly answer her emails) or emotionally confront her (e.g., Why won’t you talk to me!).
What I really want in that case is to keep my job but my behavior undermines that goal.
First recognize how you are contributing to the situation
Then we can remember our goal and decide—from a logical space—what behavior might help us make progress toward it.
In this same example, owning the fact that I have created the narrative that is freaking me out helps me stay calm and thoughtful. While that story could be true, so might dozens of other explanations. The fact is that I don’t know.
Accepting not knowing opens my mind to other, less destructive possibilities and keeps me in a logical state. From there I can schedule a time to talk with my boss, ask her for feedback, make sure I understand her priorities or learn more about her as a communicator. All of those can help me achieve my goal of keeping my job.
Resist making the situation worse than it may be, focus on your desired outcome, and communicate thoughtfully.
Owner and Managing Director, The Hearing Clinic
Be firm in reaching out and asking questions
If your boss isn’t communicating with you, it’s time for you to be firm. Even though leaving more than a message on their voicemail or sending them multiple follow-up emails might seem like a bit much, you need to be persistent.
Whether your boss isn’t being reasonable or is just very busy, do your best to be direct and straight to the point.
If you have to ask them a question, try asking binary questions, forcing them to simply answer with a “yes or no.” However, whatever you decide to do, don’t stress.
As frustrating as it may be that your boss isn’t properly communicating with you, it’s probably a sign that they trust you. If something goes wrong, they’ll know you had reached out prior to.
Anne Corley Baum
President, Vision Accomplished
When your boss doesn’t communicate with you, it’s a great opportunity to take charge and communicate with them!
Schedule a meeting with your boss
One thing that has worked for me is scheduling a regular meeting with the person with whom I need to communicate. I create an agenda that includes reporting the status of current projects and issues as well as finding answers to questions, gaining advice, and soliciting feedback.
Not only does this practice demonstrate initiative, but it also provides the opportunity for important conversations to occur.
When you make it easier for your boss, or anyone, to communicate with you, you build trust and a strong relationship.
Check with your co-workers
One of the first things you can do if you think your boss isn’t communicating with you is to check with your coworkers.
It may be that your boss is relatively quiet in general and isn’t communicating with anyone, in which case, it isn’t just you, and everyone is dealing with the same issue.
If your boss is communicating with coworkers but not with you, you probably just need to ask them directly if something is going on. This may resolve the issue, but it may not.
Don’t immediately go to your boss’s boss, if you can help it
That could signal an issue and start a chain reaction that could come back on you if your boss gets in trouble, so try other avenues first.
Once you’ve asked your supervisor directly and the issue hasn’t been resolved, a better option might be to ask HR for some assistance with communication tools or conflict resolution.
Tech Executive and Consultant |
Founder and Coach, Aviv Ben-Yosef Consulting
This is a common issue across all ranks in an organization. Everything often boils down to claiming quality time with them, even if you have to send the invite yourself to have 20 minutes of 1:1 once a week.
Ask for a one-on-one meeting and be sure that you get clear goals
Understand what’s important for your boss and execute on that. Communicate progress as necessary.
You don’t want to impose on them, but remember that it’s their job to provide you with guidance and feedback. Otherwise, you might get lost and be the one to blame.
Careers and Workplace Analyst, FitSmallBusiness.com
Address the issue head-on with a few examples ready in case of a discussion
If your boss doesn’t communicate with you, you need to address the problem head-on. Request a short meeting to discuss how the two of you can better work together and have a few examples ready of when a lack of communication caused at least one of you to drop the ball.
Try not to play the blame game and instead, approach the situation as though you’re trying to find a solution to help both of you be successful.
Seek further guidance from a higher manager
If your boss is resistant and refuses to make any changes, don’t throw in the towel. As uncomfortable as it will probably be, you’ll need to seek further guidance from a manager above your supervisor.
I recommend making the meeting as private as possible and requesting that your manager not be notified.
Although you can never guarantee something like this won’t get out, it’s good to at least try; you don’t want your boss to become defensive and become worse than he/she already is.
SEO Manager, 1st on the List Promotion
Ask more questions
If your boss doesn’t initiate enough, be the one to initiate those conversations. Make it a habit to ask them what the priorities are or what they currently have on their mind.
Don’t hesitate to request more details on the tasks you’re given. This way, you’re less likely to question yourself or do things incorrectly. If you’re not sure what your boss is trying to say or ask of you, don’t leave it to chance. Seek clarification by filling in the gaps.
For example, if your boss asks: “I need that report on the numbers as soon as possible”, you can clarify with “You’d like the monthly report by the end of the week or do you need it sooner?”
If you don’t already have a regular allocated time to meet with your manager/boss, take the initiative to schedule a time with them. That way, you’ll have dedicated time to talk through issues and ask for the feedback you need.
This also shows you take initiative, and care about doing your job well. Have a specific list of things prepared that you want to discuss. By guiding the discussion, you’ll be able to get clarification on the things that you need most.
These actions don’t just help with clarification, when done consistently, they can slowly indoctrinate your boss that more detailed communication is important and needed.
Director of Operations, Wikilawn
I feel this answer changes depending on the type of boss. If this is your direct manager, it’s definitely a problem that needs to be resolved. If it’s a general manager, there may be people who can mediate rather than you having to put yourself out there.
Unfortunately, some people in leadership positions aren’t great communicators, or they have certain styles of communication they’re more comfortable with.
Figure out you boss’s preferred means of communication
It’s usually not malicious. If you feel it is, you need to speak to HR. Otherwise, try to figure out why your boss might be having trouble. Maybe they prefer speaking via email or Slack and you’re trying to talk to them in person. Maybe their schedule is packed and they just forget to check-in.
Take an initiative for a conversation
If they’re managing several people, they may not even see the problem. You’ll have to take charge here and advocate for communication.
Do so in a way they’re most comfortable with and try to establish recurring one-on-one meetings. Be honest about what you need from them to do your job successfully.