Boss . . . We Have A Problem!


No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, but life happens and problems are a reality. So how do you bring a problem to your manager’s attention without being the messenger that got shot? How you deliver the message to your manager will result in either building on the relationship you have with your manager, or potentially being labeled as a problem employee. The key is in the delivery. A constructive delivery can actually build trust between you and your manager as well as establish your reputation as a key employee and problem solver. Conversely, presenting a concern in a negative way can harm your credibility and undermine your manager’s confidence in you.


Before you bring a problem to your manager, consider the following key points regarding your approach.

  • Focus on the “Aim-Frame.”
    What do you want to accomplish and what are the best ways to do it? Be respectful of your manager and teammates. Stay away from the “Blame-Frame” by not pointing fingers and assigning blame. Address the positive aspects of the situation, as well as the problem.
  • Stay objective and lose your emotional attachment to the problem.
    Let go of any anger or frustration and calm down before approaching your manager. Focus on the facts of the situation and refrain from emotional commentary.
  • Problems and solutions go hand-in-hand.
    Always be prepared to present multiple solutions to your problem. Approaching your manager with several viable options will show your manager you have put time and energy into effectively resolving the problem and that you are looking to the future rather than focusing on the past.
  • Appropriately time the communication of your concerns.
    No one likes surprises, so rather than blurting out your concerns in a staff meeting, schedule a private, one-on-one meeting with your manager to discuss your concerns. Make sure both you and your manager are ready to receive input. Be aware of what else is taking place around you that may affect your manager’s ability to focus on your concerns. Confirm that it is a good time to talk before you begin.


After setting the stage for a productive conversation, follow the six steps listed below to open-up a discussion with your manager and increase your odds of a successful outcome.

  1. Define the problem. Describe the situation and its impact on your work, your team, and the company goals. State the observable facts in an objective manner and identify the causes behind the problem without placing blame on others or inferring your manager is the problem.
  2. Identify solutions. Explain what you have already tried and what you learned. Recommend a solution and a couple alternatives to provide your manager with options. Address the pros and cons along with the risks and barriers to each alternative solution. Outline how the solutions will be implemented and any resources that will be needed. Offer the results of any trials you have conducted.
  3. Explain how your plans will solve the problem and discuss the benefits. Present the expected outcome to your solution(s). Describe the positive impact the solutions will have on you, your team, the company, and your manager. Focus on concrete examples. Clarify the immediate and long-term benefits of your solutions.
  4. Identify and overcome objections. Ask your manager, “What do you think?” Solicit input about challenges and suggestions. Provide ideas to overcome objections or ask your manager for his or her recommendations.
  5. Own the problem and accept responsibility for the outcome. Acknowledge that you are responsible for full resolution of the situation. Demonstrate your commitment to do whatever it takes to successfully resolve the issue.
  6. Leave the decision up to your manager. Allow your manager to make the final decision about the best solution to your problem. Frame your concern as a request and refrain from demanding a specific action be taken. Never use an ultimatum or hold your manager hostage for a solution. Respect your manager’s final decision; even if you don’t get what you want, your request will have been heard.


Learning to take an objective approach to discuss problems with your manager will earn you the trust and confidence of your manager and secure you a seat at the table when other problems need solving or new innovations are needed.


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