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Podcast: How to have a tough conversation with your manager

Written on May 2, 2019

By Jessica Salerno, OSCPA senior content manager

RampeIt can be intimidating to talk to your manager about sensitive topics but by doing so you can gain valuable experience when it comes to strengthening your communication and problem-solving skills.

“Think about how you want that person to feel in the conversation or how you want your relationship to look like at the end,” said Kristen Rampe, CPA, owner of Rampe Consulting in the most recent episode of The State of Business podcast.

These tough conversations could be anything from your frustrations with a colleague or explaining why you’re going to miss the project deadline, but regardless of the subject matter, they all require some nuance and forethought to ensure your tone and intention is coming through the way you hope. Like Rampe said, you most likely don’t want your relationship with your manager to be worse when you’re finished, so it’s helpful to consider the situation from their perspective.

Rampe suggested thinking about common goals that you and your manager might share, such as client service or timeliness, and using that as a starting point. If you have a strong relationship with your manager already, that should give you more confidence in having difficult conversations. If your relationship has had some challenges, you need to prepare more.

“You need to choose your words a little more carefully,” Rampe said. “Because when that relationship is strained it’s easy to say something that is misinterpreted and taken the wrong way.”

If the topic is one that involves legal or HR matters, it would be wise to bring a third party into the room. That could be your HR representative or someone else, but if the matter is that sensitive it’s important to ensure you’re taking the right steps to document the discussion.

A third-party individual is also useful when it comes to asking the opinion of someone else before talking to your manager.

“They don’t necessarily have to be in the conversation with you,” Rampe said. “If you’re the type of person who likes to go and vent to someone about a certain challenge or conversation, instead of making it only a venting session, you could say ‘I have this challenge and what I could really benefit from is some help in figuring out to talk to this person.’”

Above all, Rampe said remember to go in thinking about the relationship you’d like to have at the end of the discussion.

“The facts are going to sort themselves out during the conversation,” Rampe said. “But when you think about it from a relationship perspective that changes your tone, that changes your approach and that’s what’s going to make the conversation more effective.”

Listen to the entire episode now to hear more insight about handling difficult conversations with your manager.