The main reason we stress over our conversations with authority figures is we give them way more power than they really have. 

Speak With Your Superiors Without Feeling Inferior

Unless you’re the CEO of your own company, you have to deal with people above you. Even CEOs sometimes get pulled over by a cop and have to submit to their authority. Speaking to your boss, your parents, your local badge wearing officers can make any one of us feel a little shaky in the knees. How can we speak intelligently to our superiors without feeling inferior?

The main reason we stress over our conversations with authority figures is we give them way more power than they really have.  These are a few of the ways we give up our power to people “above” us.

Judgment of our Person

One of the reasons we feel uncomfortable speaking with people in authority is we give them the power to judge us as a person. But in reality, their job is to judge a situation and make a determination of what should happen for the good of all. However, we often interpret their decision-making as a direct reflection of who we are as a person. When someone says, “don’t take it personally,” this is what they mean.

Deciding Our Fate

Another reason is we think they  hold all the cards. It’s easy to feel dis-empowered when another person seems to have the ability to affect our lives in powerful ways, like determining whether or not we have a job tomorrow. And although it’s true, that a boss can fire you, how you respond to challenging situations like losing a job means a lot more than the termination. How you bounce back, what you learn about yourself, and where you go from there is up to you. When you carry the knowledge of your own resilience, your fear of authority loses its power over you.

Use of Your Voice

We don’t value our own voice in the presence of authority. Having grown up in a culture that demands respect for authority, we’ve somehow translated that into silence. And so we fail to speak up in any way. No matter what they say, we don’t feel comfortable questioning or speaking back to someone who’s in a position to lead us. Developing confidence in using your voice without emotion can go a long way in helping you converse among those you call leaders. There are a lot of strategies to grow in your speaking abilities. Check into Toastmasters or another club where you can learn and practice speaking up.

Feeling Inequality

Among people of authority, we often experience a feeling of inequality that isn’t real. No matter what position a person holds in life, they are not better than you. In terms of who you are as a person, there is no difference between authority figures and their direct reports. Mentally creating a gap between yourself and others makes it difficult to really connect. You will always feel the differences and assume they do too. Feeling comfortable speaking to people in positions of authority requires developing a mindset of equality. Knowing on the human level, we are the same helps us bridge differences and learn to meet others halfway.

Ability to Negotiate

Once we’re able to balance the scales of power between ourselves and our higher ups, then it becomes easier to communicate effectively without feeling less than (or lower than) anyone. Learning how to state your needs and positions clearly and without too much emotion attached are skills of good negotiators. When you think of your communication as a type of negotiation, leaving out the personal and sticking to the issues, you’ll feel a lot less threatened in conversation with your superiors.

Improve Communication Skills

The main reason we stress over our conversations with authority figures is we give them way more power than they really have. Getting comfortable speaking with people in positions of authority takes practice and risking. You need to build confidence in your skills over time. If you want to improve, I’ve also added this link to a comprehensive list of ideas for building your skills as a negotiator in the workplace. Do’s and Dont’s for Communicating Well with Your Boss

What are your biggest fears around speaking with authority figures? Are you an authority figure? How do you help your employees or staff build good communication?


  1. Great point on negotiation skills when “managing up.” As with any stakeholder, your manager can be influenced on their expectations. It is largely a matter of practicing your communication and negotiation skills to get comfortable with discussions, especially when you are requesting something (e.g., a raise, benefits, implementing your idea).

  2. Thanks Ken, from my perspective when I switched my ideas about managers to one of working in partnership and focusing on negotiation, it took away a lot of the pressure and feelings of inferiority. Only equals can really negotiate…

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