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How to overcome nervousness when talking to authority figures

What to say when you talk to a boss

Image from Leadership Freak

Here’s an answer to a question I received: How do I overcome nervousness when dealing with someone in authority?

First, understand that it is natural to feel intimidated when talking to teachers, bosses, parents, coaches, police, and other authority figures. After all, your well-being rests in their hands. Also understand that their well-being rests in your hands as well.

When you speak to someone in authority, it’s because you have information they need to do their jobs. Teachers need to know that you’re learning the information they taught you. Bosses need your contribution for the company’s success. Even the police need your information so they can fill out that traffic ticket and go on to solve more serious crimes.

Knowing that you have some power in the situation should make communicating with authority easier for you. But before you approach your teacher, boss, or other leader, there are several things you need to do.

Do Your Homework

Make sure you have all of the information you need before you approach that person. Find out what type of questions that person typically asks and have that information ready. As you get to know the person, you can anticipate those questions and be able to answer them even before he or she asks them.

Be Brief

Bosses, teachers, and other leaders are very busy people. They have plenty of responsibilities of their own, and they have bosses they have to report to as well. When you talk to them, be brief. Summarize the information you need to give them in a few key points. If they need more details, they’ll ask for them. Don’t bombard them with details unless they need them.

Most importantly, don’t waste their time. Don’t ask questions they’ve already answered or that you can find out on your own. Don’t ask them to solve problems you should be able to solve yourself. This frustrates them and undermines your credibility.

Tell the Truth

Bosses want to be told the truth. We have seen plenty of companies and organizations with cultures of lying and covering up, and they all suffer horrible consequences as a result. Companies succeed when managers get honest and timely information that help them make better decisions. If you see a problem, let your boss know, but keep the other rules in mind:

  • Make sure you’ve done your homework so that you can confirm that there really is a problem (don’t alarm people unnecessarily if there isn’t really a problem or if you misunderstood a situation), understand the nature and the extent of the problem, and have suggestions for solutions.
  • Don’t confuse “telling the truth” with free-form ranting and finger-pointing. This wastes your boss’s time and hurts your reputation.

When you learn how to communicate with a person in authority, and you know you have something of value to give that person, the experience should be more comfortable for you.

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