I often get questions from friends and employees on how to deal with their supervisors and managers. They often seem to feel that they’re not being treated fairly compared to how they see someone else being treated. Since I’m not in the office I’m never quite sure whether it’s a matter of perception or reality. Often it doesn’t matter.

What I notice most of the time is that problems occur when there’s a break down in communications. Actually, I think that’s an overused metaphor because sometimes there’s never been any real communications to begin with; can’t break something down that never existed.

Often this is the fault of ineffective management, because managers need to know how to communicate with their employees. But if you as an employee is always going to wait for a bad manager to come to you then you’re not going to get any satisfaction. That’s pretty much standard for everyone; if you wait for things to happen, instead of trying to do something to change them, you’ll end up with nothing but frustration.

I believe the first step is always trying to set up a meeting with your supervisor to discuss your issues. This is a very proactive move, and if you’ve got a supervisor who’s at least willing to listen to you then you’re on the right track.

Make sure you have your issues organized in some fashion and have thought them through, because the last thing you want to do is waste someone else’s time. As a manager, I was willing to help an employee express exactly what they were hoping to get across, but you can’t assume every person in a management position will do the same thing. If the issue is personal, make sure to keep your emotions in check as you discuss the issue; you don’t want to risk turning the manager off with too much emotion. Make sure your words stress how serious you feel the problems are.

With this, you’ve crossed the threshold of the communication gap that sometimes happens between people on different levels of the employment stairs. However, there are some things you need to consider. One, your supervisor may not agree with what you have to say. You’re not always right, but then again neither is the supervisor. Remember that the issue is communications, not necessarily total agreement.

Two, watch out for the “whiner” tag. There are some people who are always complaining about something, and supervisors really hate to deal with those people. If the issue is important enough to you and you’re not getting any satisfaction, be prepared to go the next step up with your complaint. Unless your supervisor’s answer seems to be a thoughtful response to what you’ve had to say, you don’t have to allow someone else to demean your concerns.

Three, remember what I said at number one; your supervisor’s supervisor may not agree with you either. At that point you have two things you can do. Either look back at your issue and see if you’re possibly wrong in your assessment, or realize that your issue definitely needs some kind of satisfaction and be ready to take it to the next level once again. Well, there is a third option, but deciding to leave a company is always a hard decision to make.

Four, know your rights. If the issue is one of some kind of harassment or discrimination you’re definitely covered by state and federal employment laws. If the issue is procedural yet illegal you’re protected under federal laws also. If the issue is procedural yet not illegal you may just have to learn to live with it, because if it doesn’t work it’ll get changed soon enough. If the issue is personal, well, you have the option of deciding if it’s a one time thing that you can move beyond or need to look for employment elsewhere.

Sometimes your perception of how things are isn’t what someone else’s perception of the same event is; that’s why we’re all different. But if it’s something you can’t live with only you can make the initial decision as to what’s best for you. My favorite phrase, even to myself, is ‘just do something.’
 

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