How to Confront Your Boss

If you think confronting your boss is a your ticket to the unemployment line, keep reading.

Mike dropped a blue folder on my desk and said:

“Building Effective Partnerships.  Base it on the Boston University model and teach it to physicians and programmers.  That’s your new assignment from Diane.” he said.

We were both staring at the blue folder.

I said: “I haven’t met Diane yet.  Is she…is this…”

“Does she usually make assignments through someone else?  Is she blind to the irony of assigning a training on ‘Building Effective Partnerships’ through a third party?”  Mike was grinning at me.

“Yes.   And, is our entire relationship going to be like this?  What if I have questions?”  We were both grinning now.

“Questions like, is this whole thing just an exercise, or does she mean it?’” Mike’s eyebrows bounced up and down, lending an air of intrigue to our conversation.

“Especially that one”

“She’s in her office right now.  Go ask her yourself,” said Mike as he limped out of my office.

Mike and I were both disabled, he from birth, and me from a recent injury.  The duration of my disability was unclear, but it had cost me my job as a technical writer and career as a bass player.   I was back at work after months away, sporting a cast on my arm and the hand-writing of a 5-year-old.  I’d been promoted 3 levels after completing a training and development internship in training and development and now reported to Diane.  Today was the forth day of the first job of my new career and it was off to a bad start

I was thinking about all that as I walked into Diane’s office and introduced myself. I sat in the proffered chair and thanked her for the Partnership Training assignment.  As we talked, I learned thinkgs that would come in handy later.  Assuming there would be a “later.”  As the conversation started to wind down, I took a deep breath.

“There’s no graceful way to ask this next question, Diane.  I hope you won’t find it offensive.  Is the training something you’re committed to, or is it more of an exercise?”

Diane was staring at me.  The light had gone out of her eyes.  I plunged ahead:  “It’s just that giving me the assignment through Mike didn’t seem like an act of partnership.  So I wondered if partnering was something we’d be doing ourselves as well as teaching to our clients.  Because if we aren’t practicing partnership with each other, I’ll still do my best work.  It just won’t do much good.

Diane looked thoughtful, then leaned forward and locked her eyes on mine.   I was certain I was about to be fired.

“This training has my full commitment.  The CIO is expecting it within 2 months, and he’s fully committed too.  We have to change this relationship, and you have the skills to help us.  Will you do that?”

“Yes.  It’s a wonderful assignment, and I’d love to help.”

“Good.  As for the way you got the assignment, I apologize.  I didn’t think it through.  I promise you it won’t happen again.”

In the 5 years I worked for her, it never did.

So, why didn’t I lose my job?  Here’s the anatomy of confrontation:

0. Connect first.  I’d just met the woman.  We needed to get acquainted.

1. Prepare them.  I used “I” statements that showed I was about to say something difficult, and that I regretted having to do s

2. Reveal more.  When she was looking daggers at me, I told her more of the story in my head, and more about what mattered to me instead of folding up like a broken lawn chair.

3. Honor their outcome.  What mattered to me was doing the best possible job in service of her desired outcome.  If the training was perfunctory, I was OK with that.  I was there to learn.

4. Delete the judgment.  Every statement was matter-of-fact, calm and judgment-free.

5. Be your intention.  My intention was to be helpful, period:  I exuded helpfulness.  I was helpfulness.

It’s steps 3, 4 and 5 that make you irresistible.  Steps 0-2 just make it a smoother ride.

If you’re thinking “You think that was hard?  Ha!  One time I had to…”  I hope you’ll tell me all about it in the comments below.



Leave a Comment


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.