Do you wish your manager could be a better boss for you? I think most of us do.

Maybe it’s a boss who gives you honest feedback, opportunities to develop new skills, advocates for you behind closed doors or whatever else you need more of.

Just think how much further you could go in your career if you had a boss who did and said just the right things at the right times to bring out the best in you. And it would make your job more enjoyable too.

But most of the time, it remains just a wish. After all, you can’t change someone else.

The good news is there are some things in your power to help your manager be a better boss for you. More on that in a moment.

Often, the problem lies in what remains unsaid

I consider myself to be a pretty good boss, and certainly want to be. But even then, I’ve made my share of “bad boss” mistakes.

For example, I had delegated our section of the department’s weekly newsletter to a team member. She would write up our section and pass it on to me for approval before sending it up to the department head.

But when it was finally published, she noticed that our section was heavily edited. It made her wonder whether she was doing it badly, and whether it was even worth her doing it if I was going to rewrite it. She decided to go back and compare her versions to my edits to see where she could improve. But she didn’t say anything to me.

On my end, I started wondering whether she was going to be able to do this and whether I should just do it myself. But I didn’t say anything. Then, I noticed she was improving but didn’t say anything then either.

Both of us ended up wasting time and mental energy that could have been avoided if we had only had a conversation.

But it’s hard to find the right words

As a team member, there’s the effect of the “power distance”. It’s your manager, after all. The person who determines things like your pay, promotion prospects and the projects you’re assigned to.

On top of that, it’s scary to risk hearing negative feedback. That makes it much easier to keep your head down and try to improve on your own. As they say, what you don’t know can’t hurt you. But in a career context, that’s not entirely true!

For the manager, there’s the discomfort of giving “bad news”. Not knowing what to say and fearing an emotional reaction from the receiver means you put off giving that important feedback. And the things that go into the “do later” bucket tend to stay there.

Since you can’t change others, it’s more fruitful to focus on what you can do.

Here are three things you can do to help your manager be a better boss for you

  • Take responsibility for communicating
  • Adopt a matter-of-fact approach
  • Ask better questions

Let’s start with the first strategy.

It’s in your interest to take the initiative to communicate

I used to think it was my manager’s responsibility to reach out to me. And that nice Chinese girls don’t speak to senior people unless spoken to first.

While that might work for the first couple of years in your career, it’s a high-risk strategy if you want to progress. If you wait for your busy boss to come to you, you’ll probably miss out on all kinds of opportunities to get feedback, gain insights and shape your role and future opportunities.

So take the initiative. And when you do, you’ll also get to show leadership, courage and confidence simply by having the conversation.

Which leads us to the second strategy.

When you’re communicating with your boss, adopt a matter-of-fact approach

That “power distance” we talked about before can cause you to fumble what could be a normal conversation.

Worrying too much about hierarchy can make you come across in an unnatural way. In my case, that showed up as feeling like I didn’t deserve to “negotiate” with my boss or ask for improvements to my situation. I’d get so nervous that I either rambled, got emotional or became defensive. None of which was helpful.

Instead, by being matter-of-fact, you’ll come across as a professional speaking to another professional… in this case, your boss.

So don’t juniorize yourself. Be respectful, of course, but you can use your voice in a way that’s neither confrontational nor needy.

Which brings us to the third strategy.

Be prepared to ask better questions

All too often, people get into the conversation with their boss and all they can think of is to say their piece, listen to their manager’s reaction, and get out as quickly as possible. That means you leave a lot of information and possibility on the table.

If you’re going to have the conversation, make it the most effective one you can. And that means asking questions. It could be asking, “can you give me an example?” if you want to make sure you understand their point. And it could be a simple, “is there anything else?”

I was recently on a call with a senior executive who was giving me feedback on a coaching client. I could sense he was busy and impatient, so when he stopped talking it was tempting to say “thank you” and end the call.

But something told me to risk asking one more question: “is there anything else you’d like to share?” That’s when the most important piece of feedback came out.

So instead of rushing to get out of the room, Zoom or phone call, be prepared to ask a question.

When it comes to questions, don’t ask for feedback

For many managers, giving feedback feels like judging your past performance and finding fault with it. And most people don’t know how to convey it in a way that points out your development area in a way you can address it while still staying motivated.

Since giving feedback is stressful, managers tend to avoid it. And even when they give it, it can be so direct that it feels mean and angry, or so watered down that you can’t figure out what they’re really thinking.

So ask for something more useful and that they’ll feel more comfortable giving instead. What Marshall Goldsmith calls “feed forward”.

For example, instead of asking “can you give me feedback on what could I have done better?” try “how can I improve the next time I do this?”

And in the example of my team member with the newsletter, she could say, “how could I do this so you don’t need to redo it?”

When you’re asking for advice on how to improve your position, remember it’s not just about you

For example, when you’re going for a promotion, a raise or anything else big and important to you, most people would ask, “what do I need to do?” The answer could be to hit a sales target, show you can lead a team or some other milestone.

But I’ve had colleagues do what was asked of them and still not get that promotion or raise. That’s because there are other things going on and no one operates in a vacuum.

So instead of asking what you can do and leaving it at that, consider asking the broader question of “what would need to be true” in order to achieve the result you’re after.

That framing will prompt your boss to consider the full landscape, including factors outside your control. Like other stakeholders needing to sign off or having a cap on promotions in your department this year.

This will be useful information from which you and your boss can devise a plan. And that’s when you can follow on by asking what you can do to help.

But what if your boss won’t talk about anything personal development-related?

The best way to approach a manager who’s “allergic” to giving feedback or personal development advice of any kind is to put it into terms they care about and feel comfortable with.

In most cases, that means making it about the business. Every effective manager cares about delivering business results. So you can make it about how to increase the productivity of the team – in particular, you. Or if your manager cares more about something else, like profitability, reputation or market share, relate it to that instead.

Just don’t make the mistake of avoiding the conversation

Not talking to your boss won’t make things better and may even get worse. Because three things could be true.

First, you could be imagining the whole thing. But wouldn’t you feel a whole lot better finding that out so you don’t have all that “internal churn” of worrying unnecessarily?

Second, there could be something you can do to improve. Wouldn’t you rather know so you can do it? And third, the issue could be something that’s out of your control, in which case having the conversation would allow you to stop worrying about it.

When you wish your manager could be a better boss for you, it’s time to take matters in your own hands

There’s something about taking action that makes everything feel better. So instead of sitting with it and stewing on it, take these three steps.

  • Take responsibility for communicating – you have the most to gain so take the initiative and use it as a chance to show leadership, courage and confidence.
  • Adopt a matter-of-fact approach – be respectful and professional, but don’t “juniorize” yourself.
  • Ask better questions – frame them in a way that makes it easy for your boss to provide useful answers.

So, which of these steps do you need to take to help your manager be a better boss for you?

Leave a comment and let me know.

And if you want to know more ways to manage your boss, check out these and other tips and trainings in Career Mastery™:

  • How to Manage Different Kinds of Bosses
  • How to Keep Your Boss Updated and Do It Well
  • How to Get Your Boss to Rate You Highly
  • How to Be “No Surprises” With Your Boss
  • and much more to advance your career.

Start mastering these and other essential skills today