If you’re like many of my clients, you work hard and take your job seriously. But what do you do when you have anxiety about talking to your boss? Asking your boss for support or talking to them about something important – a raise, a promotion, or quitting– can be scary for plenty of reasons. But communicating with your manager is key to feeling good and resourced at work.
I’m a therapist for millennials, and many of my clients want help overcoming the fear of talking to their boss. So let’s talk about some ways to handle this anxiety so you can get the managerial support you need.
Beneath most anxiety is usually something else that’s less obvious. It may be a deeper fear, an assumption, or a perspective you have. To try to get to the root, ask yourself what’s going on underneath your anxiety. What are you really worried about? Is it about your boss at all? Are you intimidated by them? Do they make rude or judgmental comments?
Or maybe your anxiety actually stems from underlying people-pleasing or perfectionist tendencies. You might be worried that your boss will judge you if you broach a difficult topic with them. This concern might consume you even if your boss is completely approachable and understanding. Many of my clients can’t stand the thought of anyone thinking less of them. This can increase anxiety about talking to your boss, because it can feel like a lot is at stake.
Understanding what’s going on beneath your anxiety can be essential in knowing how to move forward. For example, let’s say you realize you’re afraid to ask your boss for a raise because you’re a high achiever and are nervous that requesting any help or support might result in your being harshly judged. If this is the case, you may need to start working on challenging and unraveling some underlying people-pleasing beliefs.
But maybe instead you realize your anxiety about asking for a raise stems from a fear that you’re unworthy and don’t deserve to be compensated for your time or energy. If so, this involves building self-worth, compassion, and a new set of beliefs about your identity.
You might be surprised what you discover when you reflect on what’s underneath your boss anxiety. Regardless of what you uncover, understanding the root of your boss anxiety will be the key to knowing how to overcome it.
In order to learn how to overcome the fear of talking to your boss, ask yourself what you’re really afraid of. Then, see if you can make some small shift in your behaviors regarding your boss or workplace. Maybe you’re afraid of talking to your boss because you avoid them or don’t know them very well. If this is the case, could you try having more regular communication with them? Familiarity breeds comfort – the more you engage with them, the easier it will be.
Bosses can be intimidating, but engaging with them more regularly can increase your rapport and make it easier to discuss difficult things when you need to. Practice everyday conversations before you have to practice hard conversations. A good way to approach them is to ask specific questions about your position. For example, you may want to talk to them about what you’re working on, give them ideas for an upcoming project, or ask where to best focus your energies. Being proactive can help cultivate a respectful relationship between the two of you.
When the time comes to have an anxiety-inducing conversation, it can be helpful to rehearse what you want to say before the real conversation happens. Write it down, practice in front of a mirror or with a friend ahead of time. Being nervous about a situation can cause your fight-or-flight response to kick in. That response can make it really tough to find the right words. So plan ahead – knowing what you’re going to say can help you feel more clear and confident.
And if the idea of an in-person conversation freaks you out too much, it’s okay to have the conversation digitally. Maybe you want support on a new project you’re heading up, or possibly you’d like a raise. There’s nothing wrong with asking for a Zoom meeting, or sending an email or note explaining your situation. Digital encounters can reduce a lot of the anxiety of in-person encounters while still getting your point across.
However you decide to ask your boss for support, remember to be specific in your requests. Have potential solutions ready ahead of time for concerns your boss may have. If you want a raise, research a specific amount ahead of time. Outline your previous experience to show them you deserve it. Be prepared to negotiate. If your boss doesn’t react the way you hoped, that’s okay – you can reflect on your experience and try again later.
Remember not to strive for perfection. Your boss is only human, and has their own set of beliefs and behaviors that ultimately have nothing to do with you. Most of the time, the way they respond to you doesn’t reflect you at all – it reflects them. Trying to gain the respect of your boss is great, but nobody is perfect. It’s okay if your conversations aren’t perfect, either.
And, as always, don’t forget to ask for support from others. You can approach peers you respect for advice on how to handle a shared manager. You can ask close friends to pump you up and help you feel confident and deserving of a raise, a promotion, or switching jobs. And you can work with a therapist for help with boosting confidence and communication skills. No matter what you choose, asking for support from others can help you prepare for how to ask your boss for support
If anxiety about talking to your boss is holding you back at work, consider therapy. I can help you work through your challenges so you feel resourced, worthy, and confident when communicating with your boss. You’ll learn to change views about your worth, practice discomfort, build communication skills, and speak up for what you need and deserve. I’ll help you learn how to overcome the fear of talking to your boss and how to ask your boss for support.
I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation.
Danielle is an anxiety therapist. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.