Bosses come in all sorts of flavours. Some are reasonable, approachable people who are interested in what you have to say. Others are more authoritarian and expect a level of subservience.
No matter how pleasant a boss may be, we are naturally wary of disagreeing with, or being critical of, the boss. There is a sound biological reason for our caution. The boss is higher up in the pecking order. Taking on someone higher up in the hierarchy makes us nervous. It made our ancient ancestors nervous, it makes most animals nervous, it makes hens, from whom the pecking order got its name, nervous.
The bottom line is, the boss can sack us!
The basis of the relationship between the boss and you is one of master and servant. At its most basic, that means you do as you’re told. Without question! So what happens when you find you disagree with the boss on some fundamental issue? Do you speak up, or stay quiet? What could you say if you did speak up? And how would you say it?
It is a tricky issue and you will need all the help you can get. So read on!
* Determine how important the issue is to you. If you think the boss has made a decision that will be costly for the business, you do not have to intervene. It is in the boss’s interest to listen. Unapproachable bosses may miss out on important information. Too bad!
* Identify what is negotiable and what isn’t. Every boss will have a “no go” area. If you cross this boundary your relationship with the boss will never be the same again. Say goodbye to career advancement.
* Listen to gossip. Office gossip is an important source of information about the boss. You need to identify the boss’s blind spots so you can avoid them. Stories will help. So will close observation.
* Who’s “in” and who’s “out” with the boss? Favourites can be a useful as a conduit to get your message to the boss. You avoid confrontation. Be careful, though, using this method with an approachable boss. If the boss values directness, being indirect could misfire. If it does you’ll be the one damaged.
* Don’t compromise your core values. Some things we can live with and some things we cannot. When an issue involves your core values you will have to act. Staying in a situation which offends you, will eventually damage your self esteem. Resigning is an option but why resign before you have tried to fix it? You have nothing to lose.
* Confront the boss. If the issue is important enough you, consider ‘having it out’ with the boss. Be mindful. The way you go about this will affect the outcome. Speak about your feelings and needs and avoid insults.
* Don’t go into the boss’s office if there is any chance that you will cry, yell, or throw something at the boss. Release your pent up emotions first. Cry, yell or hit something else before you go in. You need to be calm and logical if you want to get your message across without damaging your career.
* Write down your observations and needs in relation to the issue. What specifically upsets you? How would you feel if you let it go? How might the boss react if you raise it? What is the best way to handle likely reactions?
* Determine what you want to say. Once you are clear about what bugs you about the disagreement, work out what needs to be said and what does not. Peripheral matters are irrelevant. What someone else in the office feels or has experienced is also irrelevant. Speak only for yourself and only what can be verified. You are on safe ground if you say how you feel. It is very difficult to argue that you didn’t feel your particular feelings.
* Look for an angle that will hook the boss. If you have done your research well enough, you will know what the boss values. For example if it is personal competence, talk about your feelings of disappointment, if it is harmony, talk about annoyance, if it is profits, show how your approach will improve profitability.
* Ensure you are beyond reproach. If you’ve been cheating on your lunch hour or failing to meet deadlines, it will be noticed now. The more credible you are the better chance of a positive outcome.
* Unless you are being bullied by your boss, don’t go over the boss’s head. I am surprised how many people try this with the sincere belief that the boss’s boss will come down on the subordinate’s side. Forget it! It doesn’t happen. The best you can hope for is that your boss might be reprimanded, privately. You won’t know about it. And the boss, who will still be your boss, won’t tell you about it.
* Don’t sabotage, have tantrums or undermine the boss if you decide not to confront, or if things don’t turn out the way you hoped. Sabotage and negativity are the actions of victims. Don’t become one. Keep your dignity, move on mentally and, if necessary, find another job.