When Your Boss Just Isn't Cutting It as a Manager

by Melany Gallant | Posted | Leadership

When Your Boss Just Isn\'t Cutting It as a Manager

It’s never fun having to deal with less-than-stellar employees. It’s even worse when it’s your boss behaving poorly. In this guest post, Jamie Resker (@JamieResker) of Employee Performance Solutions and Michael Shipman (@m_shipman) of The Rockland Trust Company discuss strategies for dealing with poor managers.

What happens when that annoying jerk at the office is your boss? It’s hard enough finding the courage to confront a co-worker or subordinate about their tendency to arrive late to meetings, tell jokes that go just a touch over the line, or interrupt you while you’re talking. When it’s your boss, it’s that much harder.

When anyone behaves poorly at work, much less a boss, our inclination is to shut up and “just deal with it.” Only about six percent of people we’ve asked say they offer feedback right at the moment when a performance issue first pops up.

Taking the high road is admirable, but it’s not necessarily the best approach, and it can be costly. When our bosses don’t follow through on commitments, continually reschedule one-to-one meetings, make disparaging remarks about others, take credit for our work, talk behind our back or engage in other annoying, unprofessional behavior, the boss-employee relationship becomes strained.

We wind up feeling frustrated and disempowered on the job, which in turn leads to lower engagement, lower performance, and sometimes even higher job turnover. Remember that old truism of human resources: Most people don’t leave their jobs; they leave their bosses.

Case in point – the distracted boss

Consider this example from an HR director who struggled in one on one meetings with her CEO. During his 20-minute weekly meeting with her, the CEO used to constantly answer his cell phone which was very troubling to her because it was the only opportunity they had for her to get some critical issues and work addressed.

The CEO was totally distracted, and the twenty scheduled minutes turned out to be only five. The HR Director felt totally unvalued and discounted. Because she failed to speak up, nothing changed. Over time, her job became less pleasant, and her loyalty and respect for her boss fell to dangerous lows.

The HR Director wasn’t without recourse. She could have sat her boss down and said something like the following: “We’ve been working together for two years now, and I have an idea about how to make our interactions more productive and valuable, at least for me. Could I ask you that when we do have our meetings that this time be uninterrupted?”

In our research and work as performance improvement experts, we’ve formulated some clear best practices for confronting bosses about problem behavior–so that you as employee can make yourself heard without prompting a negative reaction.

Strategy #1: Map out the conversation

Think the conversation through before you have it. Take time to hone in the annoying behavior that most bothers you most; think about your biggest frustration or worry. Then think about almost the exact opposite and reframe your frustration into a request. This should describe what you want to have happen.

Strategy #2: Avoid criticism

Second, avoid criticizing your boss. Even so-called “constructive criticism” will naturally trigger the brain’s primal, fight-and-flight mechanism, resulting in defensiveness.

Think about it: When people give constructive criticism to you, does it feel “constructive” or does it feel like “criticism”?

Choose instead, as in the example above, to reframe your gripe in a positive way–as a question or request, a proposal for working better together. That way, you come across as constructive and performance-oriented, not a griper with an ax to grind.

Strategy #3: Be clear about why you are giving the feedback

Explain why a behavior change on your boss’ part will help you. If you can, avoid talking about how your boss’ actions make you feel, since this might come across as whiny. Instead justify the conversation and feedback in terms that matter to the business instead of the fact that something upsets or bothers you.

Strategy #4: Pick your moment

Choosing the time and place for the conversation. Most people have a one-on-one meetings with their boss. If you don’t have one, say something like, “Can I run something by you?” and grab some time in a closed space. When you re-frame your gripe, choose your language carefully and deliberately, and keep an eye on your body language.

Strategy #5: Make it a one time interaction

Make this a one-time interaction. We don’t always get what we want, even when we ask politely and in a positive way. If you don’t get results from this conversation, don’t try again and again, or you will start to seem whiny or insubordinate. If your boss does change his ways, make sure to acknowledge that behavior change and thank him for it.

Asking for change is always worth the effort

Talking to your boss is worth the effort. It may not bring an end to annoying behavior, but you’ll at least have asked for what you want. Even if you don’t like the answer, you deserve an explanation on why your boss can’t do what you want.

If it emerges that your boss really doesn’t care, well, there’s nothing you can do about that. At least you didn’t suffer silently and powerlessly. You tried. And if you do decide to leave, you know why.

If you like this article, you might also enjoy Negativists in the Workplace: How to Identify and Handle Negativity at Work. Check it out and let us know what you think.

About Jamie Resker

Jamie Resker is a recognized thought leader and innovator in the area of employee performance management and the founder of Employee Performance Solutions. She is the originator of the Performance Continuum Feedback Method, a framework for systematically diagnosing performance issues and development opportunities, and crafting hearable sayable messages about even the most sensitive behavior-based issues.

She holds a BA in Business from Emmanuel College and is an instructor at the Boston University Corporate Education Group.

Jamie is also leading a bootcamp session – Mastering the Art of Performance Feedback – at the 2012 Halogen Software User Conference.

About Michael Shipman

Michael Shipman is the Vice President of Talent Development for the largest independent bank in Massachusetts, The Rockland Trust Company. Prior to that, Michael led global Organizational Development efforts for PartyLite Worldwide.

Michael earned his Master’s degree in Training and Organizational Development from Lesley University’s School of Management in Cambridge, Mass. with an emphasis on Systems Thinking and Team Dynamics.

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