A friend of mine recently told me, "People go to work because of a vision. People leave work because of managers."
People are difficult to work for. The No. 1 reason why? Because they are people.
No matter how great your manager is, there will come a time when you will feel a need to confront your boss. If you don't know how to face that, you may end up leaving a dream job over a simple misunderstanding.
So, what's the right way to confront your boss? Of all the pointers I've read, there's one that stands out: Honor those in authority above you.
When the apostle Paul told people to respect those in authority over them in Romans 13, he was likely speaking to a group that wasn't really excited about their leaders. Showing honor is biblical. It's lacking in our culture. It's also effective. If you must confront your boss, they will likely remember how you carried yourself more than what you said, and showing honor may get you closer to your goal than any critique you may bring.
Honor doesn't mean turning a blind eye to everything a leader does. Honor doesn't mean accepting every idea without offering feedback. But honor does mean that when you confront your boss, you do so respecting the person to whom you are talking and honoring the office they hold.
I'd like to offer eight pointers on how to show honor when it's time to confront your boss:
- Look in the mirror. Before you confront your boss over an issue, ask yourself which part of the problem is yours. I have never seen an instance where one side is totally wrong and the other totally right. If you can, as the Bible says, name the log in your own eye while pointing out a splinter in your boss' (Matt. 7:5), your visit will be much better received.
- Make an appointment. Scheduling ahead of time makes a huge difference to a leader and shows more respect than most people realize. Just as important as scheduling a start time, be sure to schedule an end time. My advice is that planning these meetings is like packing for vacation. Consider how long you think you'll need, then cut it in half. Confrontational meetings go much better if they err on the short side rather than the long.
- Meet in private and meet alone. Except in rare circumstances of sexual misconduct or dishonesty, I make this a cardinal rule. The only advantage I know to confronting a boss in front of other employees is consistency—it will consistently end badly. Show honor by meeting behind closed doors. Most good leaders I know welcome input, feedback and even pushback in private. One of my mentors says it this way: "I invite pushback in private. I demand loyalty in public." When handled privately, your boss may be more welcome to input than you ever imagined.
- Look for patterns. If you choose to criticize or confront your boss, do it with a pattern of behavior, not a singular problem. It's rare that a single offense is worth confronting. There are some behaviors that draw a red card, even in one occurrence. But for the normal hiccups that happen with people, it's far more helpful to bring up a pattern of behavior, management or leadership than it is to bring up a singular event. Make a list of instances that have bothered you. If you find a common denominator, you may have something worth talking about. If you can't find one, it may be time to look in the mirror again.
- Take a N.A.P. I knew an employer who used to say that he looks for staff members who can N.A.P.—that is, show a "Non-Anxious Presence." In the middle of conflict, having a cool demeanor may be the difference between appearing mature or looking like a hothead. Two of the best ways I know to take a N.A.P. is to allow your listening to outweigh your speaking and to make sure your questions outnumber your statements.
- Write down what you want to say ahead of time. Emotional conversations are the trailhead for tangent discussions. Take a bullet point list with you into the meeting when it's time to confront your boss.
- Speak the truth ... in love. Border the conversation with positive, affirming reasons why you love working where you do and why you admire your leader. Hard conversations are always best received when they are wrapped in a blanket of grace.
- Pray before your meeting. Ask to pray after the meeting. It really does work.
These are just a few suggestions I've found helpful in my years of experience. What are some ways you've been able to confront your boss well?
William Vanderbloemen is the CEO of Vanderbloemen, which serves teams with a greater purpose by aligning their people with solutions for growth: hiring, compensation, succession and culture. Through its retained executive search and consulting services, Vanderbloemen serves churches, schools, nonprofits, family offices and Christian businesses in all parts of the United States and internationally. Follow him on Twitter @wvanderbloemen.
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