A Great Resource for Employees
I came across a great article today by Susan M. Heathfield. She is About.com’s HR Specialist and she writes interesting articles – some with a great understanding of the employees’ perspective. I recommend looking at her stuff if you’re dealing with challenging work situations. (I’ll blog about more of her stuff later!) In Susan’s article Bad to the Bone: Dealing with a Bad Boss, she makes several suggestions for what you can do, including tips for talking to your boss, going to their boss if that fails and leaving if nothing works.
For a long time, I’ve been thinking about: what can employees do in situations where talking to their boss doesn’t help, and bringing a complaint is risky – but when they don’t want to, or can’t leave their job. Reading Susan’s tips, an alternative approach finally came to me.
I Need Help with My Boss
Before bringing the issues as a complaint, try going to your boss’ boss (or HR – whoever you feel is most competent) and ask them “Would you work with me to help me improve my skills for interacting with my boss?” Talk about it from the perspective of “you taking ownership of your side of it”, and ask if you can come to them to get their advice as you practice. This approach could help with others situations than a challenging boss as well.
Benefits of Asking for Help
If the person you go to agrees, there could be several benefits to these conversations: you might get some good advice on what you can do to help the situation; in asking for their suggestions about specific interactions, they’ll become aware of the things your boss does without you having to bring a complaint (and so, hopefully without you being branded as a complainer); you may get insight into how the situation is viewed from their perspective (something that can often be puzzling from one level of an organization to another); you might get some insight into what’s being done about the issue on their end (e.g., if you end up having some joint conversations with this support person and your boss); if their suggestions don’t seem possible for you, you can explore why (again both because of your boss and because of your needs). It’s also often true that, asking for someone’s help, can engage them in understanding your needs and pulling for you. It might be that they feel flattered that you’ve turned to them for help; or it may be that, in starting to think about how to help you, they just start to feel more compassion for you.
‘Ownership’ is an Empowered Position
Be careful not to let things slide into “it’s all your fault” and “you’re a problem employee.” Instead, frame it as something like this: “My boss and I have different working styles…” and “I’d like to get your input on what you think I can do to help us work well together.” Don’t focus on your boss as the problem. Although you can acknowledge in passing the obvious point that it always takes two to tango – keep focused on your purpose in talking to them – that you’d like to develop your skills to work better in this situation.
It is an empowered position to fully acknowledge (inside you) and accept the reality that someone else is challenging to work with (or full-on messed up), but then go forward with “how can I roll up my sleeves and become stronger at dealing with this reality while I’m in it?” If it doesn’t work, you can go on with the other suggestions in Susan Heathfield’s article.