How To Relate To Your Boss For Immigrants

Last Updated on November 2, 2018 by Estrella

The topic of how to relate to your boss has seldom been addressed specifically for immigrants.    That is because cultural beliefs vary.   Eastern cultures, especially, regard hierarchy more than some Western cultures.

How immigrants relate to their boss

Long before they start working, some cultures instill the value of respect for authority.   For example, they wait for the teachers to call on them before they speak.   They may not even raise their hands even if they have questions.   Very likely, they wait until after class to ask the teacher for clarifications, but only if they think the teacher is nice.  Seldom would students challenge a teacher’s opinion in class.   It’s considered disrespectful and impolite.

Why am I sharing stories of how students relate to teachers here?    Because when these students go to work, they often carry the same pattern to the workplace.   They relate to their boss much like they relate to their teachers.

How to develop new ways to communicate with your boss

When companies ask me to design an ESL training program for them,  they always want me to include workplace communication skills.   Managers want their immigrant employees to feel more comfortable asking for help when needed.    In fact, to simply feel comfortable asking questions.   Or feel free to share ideas that would help the team.

If you want to train yourself to feel more comfortable talking to your boss, here are some ideas that might help you.

  1.  Ask yourself, “What is the proper way to relate to my boss?  To talk to my boss?”  Answering these questions will help you identify your current view and practice on the topic.
  2.  Observe how your American co-workers relate to your boss.   Of course not all Americans will relate to their boss the same way.  Pay special attention to those you want to imitate.   What is their body posture like?  Do they look relaxed?   What is the physical distance between them and the boss when they are standing?   Where do they put their arms?  How much eye contact?
  3.  Observe the tone of the relationship.  Is it formal?  Informal?   Tense?  Relaxed?
  4.  Observe your boss.   Does she like to keep a distance from her employees?   Does she want her employees to feel comfortable with her?   Is she someone who wants to know her employees better?   Or is she all about business?
  5. After you gather this data from your observation, pick the behavior you want to develop that feels comfortable to you.   Later on, you can add behavior that you feel less familiar with.
  6. Observe your new relationship with your boss.

Benefits of building a better relationship with your supervisor

Building a better relationship with your boss is beneficial not just professionally.

  1. What can you learn from her, both work skills and people skills?
  2. Can you ask her to mentor you in certain areas?
  3. Can you let her know that you would like to expand your skills?   Request to take a class so you can add value to your team?
  4. Just like some teachers like to nurture a curious mind, some bosses like to nurture talent.   Is your boss such a person?
  5. Some bosses do not need or want hierarchical order.   Maybe they want to nurture a trusting environment.

To summarize, identify your current beliefs around how to relate to a boss, then observe other co-workers’ relationships that you like to imitate.  Pick some behavior you would like to practice with your boss.   Observe the difference in your relationship.

If there is a topic you would like me to write about, please email

Here is another article on How to participate in group discussions for immigrants.

Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    You can schedule a session with her at


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