How to approach your supervisor with a difficult situation

29 January 2018 , Posted by Ellie Samuels and Julie Loveny

Most people don’t like confrontation, especially at work. Sometimes we think it is easier to ignore or “put up with” a problem than discuss it with our supervisors or managers. However, avoiding addressing these concerns contributes to unhappiness in the workplace. There are many reasons you may need to have a difficult conversation with your boss. You might have observed a problem at work that is unsafe or inefficient. Or you may be having some difficulties with a colleague.

In an ideal world, we would feel comfortable talking with our supervisors or managers about these issues, but this often isn’t the case. Here are some tips on how to approach your supervisor when you have a problem:


  1. Be Prepared. Have a clear idea about why you are talking to them and what you want to achieve by talking to your supervisor.
  2. Initiate. Find the right time to start the conversion. Don’t try to grab a quick chat with your supervisor right before lunch. Instead, pick a time where they are most likely to be available and can listen to what you have to say. If possible, arrange a meeting with them so you know you won’t be interrupted.
  3. Discuss. Explain your problem and what resolution you hope can be achieved. If you are unsure of what the solution might be, talk about the available options. Work towards achieving an “action plan” so that you are clear what steps need to be taken in the future.
  4. Conclude. Wrap up the conversation by stating your understanding of the outcome. It is important that you and your supervisor are on the same page and understand the steps that need to be taken in order to resolve your concerns.

Often, a supervisor is completely unaware of the issues you may be bringing to their attention. It is important that you give them as much accurate information as possible. You may find it helpful to write some notes before you meet with your supervisor and bring with you to your meeting. When explaining your concerns, make sure you:

  1. Describe the problem. Provide your supervisor with a precise overview of the issue.
  2. Tell them how you’ve tried to solve it. Explain how you have attempted to solve the problem and what the outcomes were. If you haven’t tried to solve the problem, outline any ideas on how you feel the problem may be best addressed.
  3. Explain the impacts of your proposed solution to your supervisor. Help your supervisor understand what positive outcomes will be achieved by resolving your issue.
  4. Accept responsibility for the outcome and don’t be afraid to try again if your first idea isn’t successful.