Upward Communication

Upward communication is the information going from subordinates to their supervisor or manager. The information could be reports, notifications, statuses, complaints, rumors, concerns, questions and information in general.


I don't want any yes-men around me. I want everyone to tell me the truth - even if it costs him his job.

Samuel Goldwyn


Given the power dynamics, the potential for miscommunication is high. This article provides guidelines on how to make sure this type of communication is effective.

Upward communication – Giving One Time Oral or Written reports

As an employee, one of your goals may be to give reports that are complete, clear and useful. Reports that make you look competent and professional.

Status   ReportsThe key to a good report (whether it’s a verbal report or a written one) is that it addresses the concerns of the people receiving the report.

You can have the greatest presentation and content, but if the report doesn’t answer the specific questions and concerns of your readers or audience, the report will be lacking.

The best way to ensure your report is on track is to have a preliminary discussion with your manager, half way between start and completion of the report, to ensure that you have understood the concerns of the people asking for the report. This is crucial.

The conversation needs to be at the half way point, because at the start you may not have enough insight to ask the right questions and your boss may not have all the information to answer them.

Upward Communication – Reporting Periodic Project Statuses

This is a sub-category of Giving Oral or Written Reports but Project Status reporting deserves its own discussion, because the reporting is done periodically.

These days most managers are too busy to receive periodic status updates, unless the updates are significant. If not much has happened since the last time you provided a status report, it’s best not to spend too much time preparing and giving one.

This is assuming you are on schedule against a completion date. If there is nothing to report because you haven’t completed what needed to be done, then you do need to provide a full report as to the reasons why you are delaying the work.

So, don’t give statuses for the sake of giving them. Give them when it’s needed. If your boss insists that you to provide a status on a periodic basis, follow the rule above.

Make a note on the status that there is no change from the previous period, that way your boss doesn’t have to read the last status to figure out if there was any change.

Upward Communication – Reporting Problems, Concerns and Complaints

This seems very straightforward, but there are potential pitfalls about reporting problems:

• To describe problems in detail and skip providing any possible solutions.

• To report the problem to the boss’s boss, creating a “went around his/her boss” awkwardness.

• To report the problem in the wrong place or the wrong time, e.g. An employee reports his need for additional training at a full departmental staff meeting. In that example, the employee's training is a individual matter, not a group issue.

Try to avoid these no-nos, instead, bring problems to the attention of your boss and bring up also the potential solutions; share your concerns privately unless is a group concern.

Do it when you boss is available to talk, not when he is a rush out to some meeting.

Avoid adopting a powerless attitude, have confidence in your approach, it will come through and make a big difference on how your message is received.

Upward Communication – Giving Information

You may be privy to information that falls outside of the normal day of work, it could be a rumor or verified information about something your boss needs to know.

What to do?

It’s ok to provide information as long as it’s verified, otherwise you are going on a very slippery downhill: turning into an ear for your boss.

It may be appealing to be a trusted confidant, but the risks that go with that role may not be worth it.

Upward Communication – Asking for something

You may want to ask for a raise for yourself or one of your employees. You may need additional resources (money, staff, authority, access to information) to complete your project.


You may want to ask your boss to stop inviting out to social events… or to stop putting you down in front of other staff and clients. Phew.

What’s the right way to approach your boss and ask for these things?Upward Communication

This is perhaps the most difficult area of upward communication: To ask your manager for something. Some people prefer to skip the exercise altogether and live with the consequences of not asking (and not getting) what they want.

While we can’t possibly do justice here to the subject of making requests of your manager, let's touch on some of the basics dos:

• Prepare what you are going to say

• Describe with clarity what you need

• Describe why you need it

• Describe the consequences of not getting it

• Describe the cost, both one time and ongoing

Upward Communication – Floating Suggestions and Ideas

Lots of people have great ideas, but few get to see their ideas be accepted and implemented. Most organizational cultures don’t welcome change, and even when the culture fosters innovation, people as individuals resist change. It’s just human nature.

To up the odds of your idea getting considered by your manager, make sure that you describe:

• How the solution will benefit the company

• How the proposed solution is more cost effective than the existing solution

• The likelihood of a successful transition from the existing solution to the new one

• How to pull it off with the least amount of pain during the transition

• Include a plan B, should the solution doesn’t work as planned

In Conclusion

All guidelines for effective communication are in effect when we talk about upward communication.

There will be times when you feel you are more qualified than your boss, when you feel you shouldn’t have to bother preparing those reports, when you feel you are not getting due credit.

I’ve yet to meet an employee who hasn’t felt that way at one point or another.

My answer to that is that if the manager is in a position of authority, he or she must be qualified to lead. And if he/she isn’t, he/she won’t last long in that position.

Give up those thoughts of how you know better than your boss. Those thoughts don’t help you do a better job and they don’t help you get ahead. They just help you ruin your mood.

Focus instead of making the most out of the upward communication that you engage in every day. Approach communicating with you boss in a professional, helpful and confident way.

Read more about Workplace Communication