Approaching difficult conversations at work is never easy.  We show you how to tell your boss you are feeling unhappy: what to say and how to say it to maximise the chances you get what you came for and everyone leaves feeling positive.

One of our key drivers in life is feeling valued.  We feel happy when we have a purpose and that purpose is recognised by others. Workplaces that leave their employees not feeling appreciated, can leave employees feeling unhappy and looking for work elsewhere.

Talking things over with your boss and pointing out the problem is a worthwhile approach before taking more drastic action such as looking for a new job. Sometimes managers just don’t realise that their staff need some appreciation now and again, and are more than willing to oblige once they have learnt how.

How to approach a difficult conversation at work: telling your boss you are unhappy

1. Be sure of the situation. What is causing you to feel undervalued or unhappy at work? For example, is it because you have not received any feedback from your superiors, or is it because you have taken on a role with more responsibility but no more remuneration?

2. Plan your conversation. Write down some specific phrases and points and have your notebook to hand.

3. Support your points with concrete facts (e.g. ‘remember that email that I sent at 9pm on Friday’).

4. Be clear about what you want out of the conversation (e.g. to have X% greater salary, to hand over a task to someone else, or to have more regular meetings etc.).

5. What are the possible solutions to the problem that you have already looked into, and that you would like your boss to agree to? What are you prepared to comprimise on if your boss fails to agree to what you want?

6. Keep the atmosphere positive. This means using only positive language, thinking of possible solutions ahead of time and focus on what you can do, not what you can’t.

7. Approach your boss at a moment when they are in a good mood. This will be even better if an important project has just been completed, or you have just gone the extra mile and your boss knows it.

8. Put yourself in their shoes. What might he/she think or say? What will be your response?  If you tend to catastrophize and think of worse case scenarios, ask yourself how likely the worst case response is to happen, how bad would it really be, and how would you overcome it?

9. Posture: keep your posture looking confident (stand up tall, shoulders down and back, and smile).

10. Take some deep breaths before going into the meeting if you need to calm yourself.

11. Keep emotions out. Be as relaxed and objective about the situation as you can, even if you are not feeling it. This is where plenty of planning will help.

12. Ensure that you or your boss write a summary of the conversation with agreed timelines to respond.

An example conversation: how to tell your boss you are feeling unhappy or undervalued

You: Hi Fatima, I really appreciate you taking the time out to meet with me. Congratulations on the X project/engagement (find something positive to praise about).

Your boss (Fatima): No problem, Liz, how can I help?

You: (start positive) I managed to secure X achievement on the Y task and have added a lot of value to the team (for example …….). This is why I would like to ask for a pay rise / but the workload has become a bit of a challenge and I am not feeling valued.

I have been working really hard lately: I am having to work late, well past office hours, and this has meant me missing out on choir practice/time with my child/social occasions/gym time and I am starting to feel that the company is not recognising the extra value I add. I know you were pleased with the quality of my work on D (good to remind them – end positive) but I don’t feel that this has been recognised.

Fatima: Ok. I am sorry you feel that way. What else are you working on at the moment?

You: Well there are X large tasks and about Y smaller ones (be specific and give examples). You see X requires about one hour daily, even though it has rather a small impact on our profit. I have already taken some measures to improve the efficiency and get Y done faster, however, all of these things simply do not fit into a normal working week. (Now it’s time to give your solution) Given the 10 extra hours I am putting in each week, I think that this should be compensated at Z amount. I’ve also been wondering what you think about me being able to take some time off in-lieu for the extra hours I have already worked. This would allow me some time to rest and recuperate.

Fatima: Ok, thank you for what you have done so far. Let me think about what you have said. Can I get back to you next week on this?

You: I would appreciate that. I’ll also send you an email today just to cover what we have talked about. I will include in the email a list of my achievements this year. Is that ok? Can I hear back from you by say..Thursday next week on what we’ve talked about?

Fatima: Yes. That’s fine. Thank you for your honesty in coming to see me.

You: It’s my pleasure. I appreciate your time. Thanks and have a good day.

Our Feel Great @ Work course helps people build resilience, confidence and wellbeing in the workplace. Read more about our coaching and active learning-based approach here.