The boss-employee relationship is always complex, and when you have a problem with your boss or the way he or she is handling a situation, the interactions can get even more complicated.
Letting a problem go unaddressed and ill feelings fester is never a good idea, though. As hard as it sounds, it’s always best to discuss unsettled matters with your boss sooner rather than later. “You can’t be afraid to speak up for fear of getting fired, because if they don’t respect you or your work they will fire you anyway,” said attorney M. Reese Everson, author of The BABES Guide to Winning in the Workplace: You Don’t Have to Compromise. “It’s best to use your voice to stand in your power. But first you must summon your strength through strategy, meaning planning out where will you speak with your boss, when will you speak with your boss, and how will you speak with your boss. All of these things matter.”
And though you’ll likely feel anxiety about broaching the subject, addressing the problem can also provide relief, said Malcolm Guy, who bills himself as the “Conflict Interpreter” and is author of How to Boost Productivity by Reducing Workplace Conflict. “The feeling of stress and anxiety in the workplace is restrictive in so many ways and dealing with an issue relieves those feelings. It does take work from both sides, but the costs of not dealing with it are simply bad for your mental health. You owe it to yourself to address the situation with your boss.”
One caveat, however, is knowing which situations to address and which should be considered water under the bridge. When it comes to picking your fights in the workplace, Everson said “You should address some of the issues that you have with your boss if they make your job environment hostile.”
And when you address those issues could make all the difference in terms of finding a solution, pointed out Harvard psychiatrist and executive coach Srini Pillay, who is CEO of NeuroBusiness Group and author of Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind. “You should first assess whether your own burnout, anger, and annoyance would make you too reactive in a conversation and think through this. Also, if your boss is generally non-receptive, you should think through your strategy first.
“When your brain is in ‘reactive’ mode, the over-activation of the emotional center obstructs clear thinking. This would likely make the talk counterproductive. Even if you can’t stand the situation and you know you have to talk this through, seek out and familiarize yourself with buffers (like another potential job) before taking the risk.”
As Everson further explained, “We must know how to take the boss’ temperature and be aware of when he or she will be receptive to our message.”
But while you may be the one doing the actual speaking up, the trickle down effect of tackling problems with your boss could improve your company overall, which is all the more reason to do it. “If you are having a problem with your boss, it’s quite probable that others in your team are having the same problem and by you addressing it, the whole team will benefit and become more productive,” Guy said.
And when you do sit down to discuss the issue, be sure to keep the conversation focused. “Make it about a specific incident and prepare your conversation before you bring it up, Guy suggested. “You need to be clear about what the problem is without undermining your boss or making them feel inferior. That can be a challenge, but preparing well and discussing what you’re about to do with someone you respect is well worth the time and effort. Choose someone from outside your work team to discuss the problem with before going to your boss, maybe your spouse or a mentor, to bounce ideas off.”
Lastly, once you’ve gotten up your nerve, don’t procrastinate, Guy warned. “The longer the problem is left unresolved, the worst it will get. Thinking that the problem will just go away or sweeping it under the rug doesn’t work. That only leads to a worse situation further down the track. Deal with it early and move on. It may not be easy, but you should gain respect and a better relationship by talking about the problem. I’ve never seen a problem improve by not talking about it.”