Use the T.H.I.N.K. Method Before Complaining to Your Boss

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“Who are you?! What do you want?! What are you doing here?! Speak to me, dummy! Speak! Why don’t you speak?!” -Max Bialystock (Larry David), The Producers
Great scene (5:40 to 6:08) from the HBO series, Curb Your Enthusiasm

I didn’t choose to use a video reference from this show just because it’s one of my favorites (ok, maybe I did), but rather because I felt this scene really shows how intimidating it can sometimes be to speak up for yourself, especially when dealing with someone that has a higher rank than you. But for any job really, we all struggle with the question of how to approach the boss about something that is really bothering us. Whether it’s unhappiness about our salary, issues with a client, or anything else in between, it’s difficult to figure out the right way to say something when it’s an issue we’re passionate about.

This is all ironic since part of our job is to communicate on a daily basis with a Director, Vice President or sometimes even a CEO, yet when it comes to communicating on behalf of ourselves to senior-level executives within our own company we tend to have more hesitations than usual, easily get rattled, or sometimes let our emotions get the best of us. So what do we do?

What I’ve learned over the past few years is that it’s all about one thing: Be Strategic, NOT implusive. With that in mind, I came up with an acronym for best practices when something is bothering you and you can’t wait to air your frustrations to the boss: T.H.I.N.K

T – Talk to a mentor about what you want to say before you say it
H – Have your favorite CD nearby or go for a walk and relax when feeling upset
I – Imagine how the reaction from your boss might be and plan accordingly
N – Never make the conversation just about your problems – have solutions ready 
K – Keep your emotions in check

I’m trying to embrace this method and I hope it helps you as well.


12 comments on “Use the T.H.I.N.K. Method Before Complaining to Your Boss

  1. What a great post! I might be slightly biased because of my love of CYE and Larry David though.

    You make a great point, you have to have a game plan when it comes to complaining or raising issues. Solutions are extremely important when discussing your concerns. The saying “you’re either a part of the solution, or a part of the problem” always comes to mind when I have the urge to complain about something.

  2. I agree that this is a great post. I haven’t quite had any issues I wanted to bring to my boss, butI can relate to general frustrations, for example with projects we’re working on. For that, I totally agree with the notion of bringing solutions. It’s one thing to complain, but to complain and have no alternatives or suggestions just creates a negative atmosphere.

    Thanks for the tips!

  3. Love this post! IMO talking with a ‘higher up’ requires the same diligence as preparing for a media pitch to a reporter;
    Be compelling, get to the point early and have answers for any pushback you may receive. The point about talking with a mentor is especially a good one.

  4. This is a really good article. I have seen so many people go into management offices and get themselves into trouble because they start talking without a game plan and almost always say something that comes back to haunt them.

    My worst experience is going and trying to get a feel for how management felt about me moving up, etc., and I kept it very PC and low key. I had talked to my manager before with little results. The person turned around and repeated to my manager verbatim our conversation. I was so angry. Luckily I didn’t say anything bad or crazy; I think he just went to her and said, “Nicole wants to do more.” She wasn’t mad, but I wasn’t a happy camper. And no, I didn’t get what I wanted.

    • Thanks for the comments, Nicole. I think we’ve all been guilty at one point or another of approaching our boss before really thinking things out. Guess the moral is to think before you speak.

  5. Hey Andrew!

    So simple, yet quite effective. In a similar vein, my professor spoke about a method called DIALOGUE talk. It’s quite a detailed idea to be shared here, so I think i’ll create a post on my blog about it and share it with you. I think this is pertinent, and quite relevant considering the industry we’re in (or in my case, striving to get settled in).

    Thanks once again for sharing!

  6. Clearing the air. knowing what you want to say and what answers you might have when the discussion results in various possiblilities, is important. Better to speak up then to harbor thoughts of what might have been. Good luck ……grammyZ

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