Clashing with the boss may seem like career suicide, especially in this lethargic employment market. But there are times when you have to speak up – whether it’s questioning a business decision or disputing a dreadful performance review. Experts we spoke to say it’s perfectly possible to cross swords with your manager without getting the boot – it all depends on how you go about it.
1) Make it a work-related problem
Only bring up matters that relate to your job. Daniel Koh, psychologist, Insights Mind Centre, says: “Personal issues should be separated from job-related issues. What is valuable or beneficial to your career, progress and well being are all fair to bring up.”
2) Don’t be a train wreck
Getting emotional, raising your voice, using foul language or stubbornly wanting to have the last word are not acceptable. Paul Heng, founder and executive coach, NeXT Corporate Coaching Services, says: “There are two cardinal rules for positive engagement: one, logic must prevail, and secondly, it must be detached from emotions.
“Begin with the end in mind: 'What is my objective in raising this issue?’ Asking yourself these questions will also help you pick your battles wisely – sometimes it’s just better to let certain things go.”
3) Ask for permission
Heng suggests asking for permission because this tends to be received more positively. For instance, a simple “I have some views that I would like to share – may I?” could help start a constructive discussion.
4) Be well prepared
Koh says: “People in finance generally like having projections, plans, stability and an understanding of all fields, so communicate with these in mind and avoid going into a discussion in an uncertain manner.”
5) Know thy boss
Your manager’s personality is an important factor that only you can assess. Heng says it’s imperative to understand your boss’s working style and personality. Some managers won’t listen to opposing opinions, but others will.
6) Point out how it benefits the firm
“If the boss can see where you are going, and that what you want is appropriate and realistic, it’s more likely that it will be given more attention than something that isn’t beneficial to the firm,” says Koh.
Challenging your manager can also pay off if he or she hasn’t been professional, especially toward upper management. Heng says: “If you are valued for your contributions, there is always the possibility that locking horns with this individual can result in his or her ouster.”
7) Keep calm, even if your boss doesn’t
Even if you’ve disagreed with your manager in as constructive a manner as possible, they may react defensively or angrily. In such a situation, Koh says: “Acknowledge what has been said, acknowledge your boss’s feelings and respond by saying that you’ll look into it, but avoid making promises you can’t keep. Once the situation is calmer, seek clarification if needed.”
Heng reckons distance is needed if things turn unpleasant. “There is absolutely no use continuing the conversation if your boss is emotionally not in a position to communicate logically.”
Of course you can vote with your feet, if nothing changes after the conversation. Koh says: “If you are threatened, treated unfairly, put in danger or getting emotionally blackmailed, this should be referred to HR’s attention. However, be sure to get your facts correct.”