News flash: Most managers are not crazy about hearing complaints from folks they supervise.

For starters, it almost always adds to their workloads. They also may even take it personally — as a sign they’re incompetent or inadequate.

Nevertheless, sometimes you’re going to need to dump a problem, maybe a big problem, into your boss’s lap. Here’s the best way to go about it.

First, make a good-faith effort to resolve the issue yourself. Think it through, trying to anticipate what you’d do if you were in charge. You’ll learn a lot. And when the boss inevitably suggests the easiest and most obvious fixes, you’ll be able to say, “Yes, we tried that.”

Sometimes, however, a problem will be beyond your pay grade to resolve. That’s what makes it a problem. When you take it to your boss, do so unemotionally, armed with facts and supplied with suggestions for action. Managers like to say, “Don’t bring me problems; bring me solutions.” They mean it.

A smart way to swing a boss’s attention toward you and your complaint is to frame it in terms of the company’s bottom line. Don’t just say you need a bigger storeroom because the current space is driving you crazy and you just can’t take it anymore. Explain how it’s slowing down productivity, angering customers and, ultimately, costing the company money. Use numbers, if possible. If an issue affects more than just you, round up your colleagues and approach the boss as a group.


It also doesn’t hurt to angle any requests in terms of your boss’s personal goals, preferences and weaknesses. A supervisor who hates inventorying might not mind ponying up for the latest version of Excel so you can handle this function yourself.

Do try to leaven your approach with positive news or even praise. If the issue is that you need additional equipment, say, “I really appreciate that you supply X and Y to us — it helps tremendously — but what we really need now is Z, and here’s why.”

Most of all, don’t complain too often. You don’t want people to start to associate you with things going wrong. Pick your battles, and make it clear to your boss that you’re there to help, not gripe.