Have “The Talk” with Your Boss

talk bubblesI recently had a conversation with a friend who talked about her unhealthy relationship with her “horrible” boss. He didn’t appreciate her; in fact he seemed to go out of his way to avoid praising her. In return, she admitted to committing little acts of resistance, like not getting back to him in a timely manner when he requested information. She felt that they had mutual disregard for each other, and that their relationship had disintegrated to the point that she was now looking for another job. Now maybe you can relate to this story, thinking, “I am in the same boat!”

But I say, before jumping ship, have “the talk” with your boss. You know how in a dating relationship, when it starts going downhill, you ask to have “the talk” with your partner? Well I think you owe yourself the same conversation with your leader. Why? If nothing else, to get on the same page, to clear the air, to arrive at mutual understanding, to MAKE THINGS BETTER. In the story above, my friend was making a lot of assumptions about how her boss was thinking and feeling about her. Truth be told, he probably doesn’t think and feel much about her at all. Why? Because he is caught up in his own world, like we all are. I doubt he is actively trying to make things worse for her, or at least not to the point she thinks he is. He is, however, probably blowing things out of proportion like she is for him, and maybe engaging in some resistance maneuvers himself. The cycle of misperception and misbehavior keeps churning, and escalating to the point where the relationship looks hopeless.

So how do you have “the talk”?

First, get your head on straight by checking your perceptions. In the example I’m using, my friend could ask herself, what really makes this leader “horrible”? Is it just that he leads her differently than she would lead herself? She answered this question: yes. She said he has a brilliant mind and brings much to the table but definitely has a very different personality and skill set than she. Now the key is to the enter “the talk” with this mindset intact, thinking about the positive qualities of your leader.

Second, see your leader as an ally not an enemy. You should think of yourself as a team member on equal footing (even though your titles and pay grades say differently). You have to go in knowing your own value and worth, and knowing that your opinions have value and worth. Assuming you are a great employee with an amazing set of talents, you have nothing to be intimidated about when entering “the talk.” Know your power.

Third, be open and honest about what you’ve been feeling, keeping your words and tone as neutral as possible to keep defenses down. Stick to the facts and stay in descriptive mode, not judgment mode. Discuss the assumptions you have been making about your leader. Let him or her tell you where you are right and where you are wrong. Showing a little vulnerability will go a long way to keeping defenses down too. Admit that you are miserable. How can s/he get defensive about that? It’s your reality.

Fourth, be clear about what you want and how it will serve both you AND your leader AND the organization. In other words, don’t complain, make a business case for what you want and need. Understand what makes your leader tick, and gear your persuasive message to fit. For example, my friend said that her boss is very analytical and numbers-driven. Okay, so go in with some stats and percentages related to your performance to highlight what you need to happen.

Lastly, keep the end in mind. Remember you want to return you and your leader to a better relationship state. If you are thinking of quitting anyway, what have you got to lose? I bet “the talk” will be very illuminating as it will give your leader the rare chance to discuss how he or she is feeling too. I’m guessing that some of your assumptions will be incorrect (aren’t they always?) and others will hit the mark. I know “the talk” seems a little scary but you know what is scarier? Suffering in silence in a way that hurts you, your leader, and your team. The desired outcome of “the talk” for you should be to return to a state of joy, fulfillment, and achievement so you can stay with the organization and do your best work.