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How to stand up to your boss

Ok so this probably rates somewhere pretty high on the “things you never want to do” list, but the fact is that sometimes the appropriate course of action is going to be standing up to your boss. “What about the security of my position?”, I hear you ask. “What about office politics?” “What about all the effort I’ve put into doing a good job and building a decent relationship with my boss?”

And look, they’re all relevant concerns and if you have these it’s a good sign – it’s great to be careful with these things. But if a situation comes to a point where your self-respect simply demands that you stand up to your boss, this is how you do it…

Give it a minute

If your boss does or says something to anger or upset you, avoid saying something in the heat of the moment. That’s when emotions are at their highest and you’re likely to say something you regret. Instead, take some time to cool off, and wait until you can talk to your boss calmly and rationally.

Define the conflict

Make sure this is a conflict and not a pet peeve. If a boss is doing something that affects you emotionally or prevents you from doing your job effectively, that is a real conflict. But if you have a personality conflict, that doesn’t mean it’s a real conflict. For example, you might want to let the fact that your supervisor never replaces the water cooler go.

What do you want to see happen?

When you’re going into any type of situation, you want to visualise what you want to happen. To alleviate nerves, practice the conversation beforehand in front of a mirror or with someone.

Time it right

Instead of trying to “catch” your boss at a random time, schedule a one-on-one meeting. Setting aside a specific time on your boss’s calendar will ensure you have his or her full attention and lead to a more productive conversation. If you don’t want to be specific, tell your boss you want to discuss a personal matter and leave it at that.

Plan ahead

Before meeting with your boss, think about what you want to say and what you want to get out of the conversation. Make a (mental or written) list of points you want to make, and be ready to discuss specific examples of times your boss exhibited bothersome behavior, and how that behavior prevented you from doing your job effectively. Try to stay as objective as possible when discussing your problem, and separate facts from emotions.

Use “I” statements

When discussing your problem, use “I” statements to get your point across. Using “I” statements prevents you from making accusatory (and unfair) statements that only lead to more conflict and misunderstandings. For example, instead of saying “You’re giving me too much work,” say, “I feel overwhelmed by my workload.” Not only is the first statement likely to put your boss on the defensive, it also assumes your boss is aware of how his or her behavior is affecting you, which may not be the case. With the second statement (the “I” statement) you’re taking ownership of your feelings and giving your boss the opportunity to present his or her side of the situation, paving the way to a more productive conversation.

Present a solution

Don’t just come to the meeting with a laundry list of complaints, expecting your boss to solve the problem for you. Come with a proposed solution, which will not only prove your willingness to work toward a solution, but demonstrate impressive initiative as well.

Talking to your boss about a problem you have with your boss is never going to be easy, but you aren’t doing yourself any favors by avoiding it. On the contrary, you will likely end up with a better relationship with your boss and a better work experience as a result. Should you talk to your boss and nothing changes, however, it may be time to talk to HR.