Confronting someone is scary. It can be even scarier to confront your boss. Often the anxiety you feel is strong enough to make you want to bury your head in the sand, no matter what the issue.
It's understandable to be afraid of confronting your boss. If the conversation goes awry, you may worry that it will put your job at stake. This is, of course, a worst-case scenario. From our experience here at Fierce, we can honestly tell you that this outcome is incredibly rare. More often than not, confrontation conversations lead to positive change.
The truth is, how receptive they are to the conversation plays into how successful they will be as a leader and the kind of culture they want to create for the company. There is a lot at stake for everyone—not just you.
Despite the intimidation you may feel, avoiding confronting your boss can turn an otherwise straightforward conversation into something bigger and more complex.
For example, in a team meeting, your boss makes a comment about your work that you think is off-base. Afterwards, you think: is this what my boss really thinks of me?
This is when you risk spiraling—where your mind conjures up realities that most likely aren’t true. And it never leads to a positive outcome.
The next day when he or she walks by you in the hall without smiling, you begin to wonder if you’re a hop, skip, and a jump away from being fired. You now want to avoid your boss at all costs in hopes that his or her feelings towards you will work themselves out.
Soon a low-grade resentment begins to breed toward this person, and every interaction you have with them only strengthens your context that they're unhappy with you. And guess what? You may find yourself less and less happy with them, and less and less happy at work.
Having a confrontation conversation allows you the opportunity to see the whole truth, and not just your own. You may discover that what you thought you heard was a misinterpretation or an incorrect assumption. You could also learn something you didn’t know about your performance and gain more insight into how you can improve. From there, you can take the appropriate next steps and move forward on solid ground.
Does knowing this make it less scary? No.
Does it make it necessary so you can be happy and engaged at work? Yes.
Knowing how to prepare and navigate these conversations skillfully can make all the difference in the outcome.
To help take away some of the anxiety, here are three simple steps to prepare.
Step 1: Know Your Issue.
In a FIERCE CONFRONTATION, the first step in preparing to confront anyone is to name the issue for yourself. This is even more critical when confronting a leader. Be specific. If you take the above example, the real issue is the leader’s comment in the meeting. Simply saying, “I want to talk with you about the effect your comment at the team meeting today had on me” is a great way to start the conversation. Simple, straightforward, and to the point! If you’ve already begun to spiral, leave those thoughts out of the conversation. Just focus on what happened in reality.
Step 2: Schedule a Time.
Leaders are busy. It’s not uncommon that throughout the day they’re pulled in many different directions. Catching them off-guard could cause an emotion from another issue they’re dealing with to seep into your conversation. You deserve your leader’s full attention. To ensure the conversation is a success, make it a priority for both of you, and schedule a meeting so they can anticipate it and show up fully present.
Step 3: Prepare Yourself.
Confrontation conversations aren’t meant to be versations. The latin root word “con” means “with,” and this is not a one-sided speech. In other words, this is not an opportunity to go in and rail against your leader and expect them to just sit there and listen. Invite them to respond. The point is to learn more about their side, and to clarify whether there is a bigger issue. And if so, determine some next steps to resolve it. Expressing your desire to find a solution can also help reduce anxiety and get both of you on the same page.
To lessen the scare factor even further, begin to examine how you may have contributed to the situation. This is usually easier to do once you’ve heard their perspective. Ask yourself: how have I contributed to the issue? How do I feel about it? Take notes. This will help you stay clear when you begin to hear their side and can help show you where you need to shift in order to move forward on a positive note.
And if you’re a leader, prepare to be confronted.
How receptive you are to your employees and their concerns is the most imperative part of leading successfully, building emotional capital, and creating a positive workplace culture. Enter these conversations with curiosity and set an intention to prioritize the relationship.
Being confronted can present an opportunity to learn about how your own communication is perceived, giving you an opportunity to course correct and learn more about the needs of individuals on your team.
The reality is there is no trivial comment you can make as a leader. Ambiguous comments about work or performance can create tension in the relationship and are worthy of a confrontation conversation.
If you’re having an issue with someone in a position of leadership, use these three steps to help empower yourself to take responsibility for your own happiness at work.
Having the skill to confront and be confronted is critical for business growth. For more insight, read the latest blog post here from Fierce EVP Stacey Engle.
Originally posted by Jaime Navarro on April 11, 2012 on the Fierce Blog; updated in October 2018.