The Best Questions to Ask Your Manager

Written by Patricia Staino

Published on Jan 13, 2020
Best questions to ask your manager

By now you’ve determined a time slot for your weekly 1:1 meeting with your manager and you’ve set (and shared) your agenda. Congratulations, you’re on track for a productive exchange of ideas! However, you still might be unsure how to approach certain topics in a constructive manner. The best way to start a productive dialogue (as opposed to a detrimental diatribe) is by asking smart questions.

Here are the five best questions to ask your manager when you want to build a better relationship, position yourself for more responsibility, and glean valuable feedback that will accelerate your career path.

How was your weekend/week?

No matter what’s on your agenda, start your meeting with some pleasant small talk that helps you get to know each other on a more personal level. Asking about their weekend or work week sets a more relaxed tone for the discussion to come. You feel good when your manager takes an interest in you as a person, right? It makes sense that they, in turn, feel good when you see them as a complete person and not just a work contact.

What’s your #1 priority right now, and how can I help you address it?

Do you know which questions to ask your manager?

Conquer your next 1:1 meeting by planning the smart questions you’d like to ask your manager.

While our primary work responsibility is to help our company achieve its goals, the best way to contribute is to help your manager excel in carrying out day-to-day responsibilities. There’s a good chance your manager’s main concern this week doesn’t align with any of the projects you’re juggling. Knowing that ensures you don’t burden them with unrelated and unnecessary questions and problems. More importantly, this question demonstrates you’re a team player who can act beyond your job description.

Here’s what I’m working on right now; but is there something else you’d like me to focus on?

While this sounds similar to the previous question, it’s really not. Here, you demonstrate your ability to prioritize your work; you also confirm that you and your manager are on the same page. It’s important to start with a brief statement about your plan for the week; without that qualifier, your manager might think you are incapable of self-directing your workload and your time. However, the second part of your question shows you’re flexible enough to reorder your priorities if new business or unexpected crises arise. If you show a willingness to step outside of your usual routine, you immediately become more valuable to your manager.

What does our team need to do to be more successful this week?

Much of your 1:1 meeting will be (and should be) spent discussing your ideas, your questions, and your career, so it’s important to demonstrate that you also value the success of your team. If your manager notes an area in need of improvement, you might segue into a discussion of skills your team lacks. This could provide insight into skills you could learn or hone and share with the team. You also earn bonus points if you suggest a way your team could quickly overcome sticking points; managers always appreciate problem-solvers over nay-sayers.

Can you assign me to the [fill in the blank] project to help develop my experience and network?

Job search coaches often counsel that you should ask a potential employer for the job you want at least three times during an interview. So, it stands to reason that if there is a project, account, or committee in which you want to play a part, you should speak up and ask your manager about it. Letting them know you want to expand your experience and commitments within the company is key to positioning yourself as their go-to person for moving the team forward on its long-term roadmap.

These questions are a great start to any 1:1 meeting. But, 1:1 meetings are only valuable because they are two-way conversations; so while you may drive the agenda, be prepared for your manager to ask you questions about your team, its projects, and its workflow. Heck, they may even ask you what you think of their performance.

Are you prepared to give your manager insightful, actionable feedback? If not, check in with us next week when we’ll look at strategies for effectively sharing your ideas with your manager in a way that makes you their trusted ally rather than simply the buzz in their ear.


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