How many times have you said this about your boss "I can't tell HIM what I really think." Or "She's never going to listen, so why bother."

Then you sit steaming inside and either get a headache, indigestion or start to plan your exit from your job. Even though you love your work, you just can't seem to cross that bridge of saying your truth to the very person who could do something about how you feel.

You get on line and listen to a leadership seminar on building great relationships. You take the time to jot down notes on what to do differently in the weeks to come. Except the notes end up in the waste basket and again you reach for the Excedrin.

What's in the way?

Why is it so hard to talk to a person in authority without the dread and worry of either being put on a dark list of bad employees or being totally ignored and appeased without any resolution.

Relationship building should be easy, right?

I mean, you've been in a relationship since the moment you were born. Someone fed you, changed your diapers, sang to you or at least kept you safe enough to survive in those early years.

So, what's the big deal.

You learn to talk and listen, listen and talk. That's what it's all about. Except there is a layer underneath the obvious that needs to be understood.

Take a minute and go back in time. Not sure of the answers to the next few questions, just take a guess, you will most likely be right, or at least in the correct ballpark.

  • Who was there to take care of you when you were still a defenseless infant and how did you get your needs met?
  • Were you on a definite schedule or were you fed when you requested. (Hint: those on a schedule would cry for very long times until the clock said it was time to eat).
  • As you became a toddler were you given choices or told to just do what your caregiver said?
  • What happened when you began to show some independence and said "no" to what was expected of you?
  • Who was there to talk with when you were afraid or confused?
  • How were your successes celebrated?

That's enough for now. Here's the reason for these questions. You see, we created work to resemble the family. Think about it this way: there are bosses like parents, co-workers like siblings, salaries like allowances and even performance improvement plans like time outs!

Therefore, if you are fearful of talking with your boss, it is often a reflection of your disappointments in being heard by your parents or caretakers.

OK, you got it. Big question is what to do about it.

Here are five ways to help you build positive relationships at work, not only with your boss, also with co-workers, clients, and everyone else you come into contact with.

  • Feel the fear and do it anyway: This has become a classic way of thinking and it really works. You may want to practice before you speak directly to your boss. So, get a coaching buddy and go over what you want and need to say until the tension begins to diminish.
  • Craft sentences in the positive: Start with what is working rather than not working and find at least two things that you can point to that you can underline as helpful and satisfying. Go ahead, positives are there to you keep looking, there is always something good you can bring up.
  • Share about yourself: It's okay to say you have difficulty discussing issues that are conflicted, and that your job, your relationship with your boss (colleague), matters enough for you to tackle the situation at hand.
  • Ask questions: the secret here is to ask open ended questions that can't be answered "yes or no." Open ended questions are the how, when, why type that create a dialog, so more good information can come through and resolution is much more possible.
  • Offer at least three solutions: Go into the meeting with possibilities of what next steps will look like. These are the stepping stones for new ways of looking at problems that often become fossilized in your thinking. Stretch yourself to think of different scenarios and stop worrying about the outcome. Maybe parts will work and someone else will fill in the empty spaces.