I often get questions from friends and employees as to how to deal with the people they report to. Even those who are responsible for other employees ask me this same question.

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They feel they’re not being treated fairly compared to how they see others being treated. They feel their work is minimized, or that they're not receiving the respect they deserve for their performance. Since I’m not in their 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 communication. That’s probably an overused metaphor because sometimes there’s never been any real communications to begin with; can’t break something down that never existed.

This is the fault of ineffective management, because those in charge 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 and everything; 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 should be trying to set up a meeting with your manager to discuss your issues. This is a proactive move, and if you’ve got a manager who’s at least willing to listen to you then you’re on the right track. If they dodge you and it feels like a permanent endeavor, you've got your solution easily enough; you need to find a new job and get out of there.

If you land a meeting, make sure you have your issues organized and have thought them through very well. The last thing you want to do is waste someone else's time. As a director in a previous life (or as an interim director), I was always willing to help an employee express exactly what they were hoping to get across. 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 relative check as you discuss the issue; you don’t want to risk turning the manager off to your concern with too much emotion. At the same time, make sure your words stress how serious you feel the problems are. Unless you're having problems with a specific employee, never verbally connect your treatment to someone else; you might not like what you hear and it looks like you're paying more attention to what others are doing instead of doing your work.

By trying to get a meeting, you’ve crossed the threshold of the communication gap that sometimes happens between people at different levels of employment. However, there are some things you need to consider.

One, your manager may not agree with what you have to say. You’re not always right, but then again neither is the manager. Remember that the issue is communications, not necessarily total agreement. Conduct yourself as a professional and you're hopefully get the same treatment back. Once again, it allows you to evaluate your place at the organization and determine whether you need to learn better skills or whether you need to consider leaving.

Two, watch out for the "whiner" tag. Some people are always complaining about something, and managers really hate interacting with people like that. Make sure to determine if you fit into this category. If not, and 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. That might mean the person they report to or possibly human resources... if you trust them. 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? It's possible that the person your manager reports to might not agree with you either. At that point you have four things you can decide to do: look back at your issue and see if you’re possibly wrong in your assessment; kick it up to the next level again; think about leaving the company.

Four, know your rights. If your issue concerns harassment or discrimination, you’re covered by state and federal employment laws. If the issue is procedural yet illegal, you’re protected under federal laws. If the issue is procedural yet not illegal, you may have to learn to live with it; 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 looking for employment elsewhere.

It might seem scary that I've mentioned leaving the company many times. Truthfully, worrying more about money than your mental health isn't going to help you long term. Your quality of work will suffer and you'll leave yourself vulnerable to leaving on someone else's terms, not your own.

Sometimes one's perception of things isn’t what someone else’s perception of the same event is; that’s why we’re all different. If it’s something you can’t live with, only you can make the initial decision as to what’s best for you.

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