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How can I communicate more effectively with my supervisor?

How can I communicate more effectively with my supervisor? – Former federal employee (GS-12)

Communicating effectively can be difficult and is one of the most underrated workplace competencies to master. Here are some tips to help you and other federal employees better communicate and engage with your agency leaders:

· Remember, you’re not the only voice in the room. It’s important to remember that your leader undoubtedly has any number of folks – from other direct reports to senior leaders to colleagues – demanding his attention just as much as you are. While it may appear that your manager is not listening, likely he is trying to make the best of competing demands, which are each worthy in their own right.

· Understand your leader’s preferences. Take a moment to think back on previous conversations that you have had with your leader and identify when you had the best outcomes from your communications. Did your manager respond best to a written email? Or to a presentation with slides? Did he enjoy sitting in front of a whiteboard and sketching out ideas? By understanding your leader’s communications preferences, you will be better able to connect and engage him in your work.

· If all else fails, ask for guidance. If you’re still having trouble finding the best ways to communicate with your boss, ask others who seem to succeed or, even better, ask your leader directly. Don’t be afraid to approach your manager and say, “I don’t seem to be connecting with you as well as I would like. What can I do to communicate with you more effectively?” Your manager will welcome the opportunity to share some insights about what he’s dealing with on a daily basis and offer advice for communicating in a way that helps him best listen.

· Try, try again. After changing your traditional way of communicating, make sure that you give yourself and your manager time to adjust to the new approach. In fact, you may need to try a few different strategies and techniques to really make the connection. Just chalk up this trial and error to the process of learning and experimentation. If you and your leader are committed to finding the best way of communicating with one another, you’ll eventually find the right approach.

I would love to hear some stories from other federal employees who have found ways of effectively communicating with their senior leaders. Please share your anecdotes by leaving a comment or emailing me at

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Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, explores workplace issues and provides advice for federal managers through analysis, interviews and reader Q&As in his Federal Coach blog for On Leadership.



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