10 Steps to Take When You Discover the Boss Talks About You to a Peer or Subordinate
When it comes to our careers, you will eventually run into a Bad Boss. You may have already encountered a Bad Boss. It’s a tough situation when you do. It is possible to curb some of the effects of a Bad Boss with some your own behavior adjustments and managing up.
One of the worst behaviors is when you discover your Bad Boss has talked about you behind your back to a co-worker, or worse, an employee of yours.
And, what they said wasn’t good.
Now you’re shocked and dismayed, not to mention angry. Your emotions are justified because of this behavior but when you can finally clear your head you’re left thinking: Now what do I do?
You’re left with a multiple-choice quiz with only 1 possible correct answer. Do you:
- Suck it up and ignore it?
- Bad mouth the boss to the person they talked about you with?
- Find another job?
- Discuss the issue with the Bad Boss?
The obvious choice is #4: Discuss the issue with your Bad Boss.
For some people reading this, the idea of confronting the boss on this behavior can make you cringe. I get it. Confrontation may not be a skill of yours. You may be concerned the Bad Boss will fire you or yell at you. The conversation still needs to occur.
– Trust is the foundation of our humanity with one another. Even if you are a distrusting person, you still endow relationships with some trust in order to accomplish anything. The actions of the Bad Boss will immediately destroy your trust – for everything. Once trust is gone the dysfunction increases. Think of like this: What else have they failed to tell you to your face? When they do tell you something, do you trust it?
– If they talked about you to another person, the other person at some level will also not trust the boss. The disclosure has more impact than the boss might realize. It’s not an act of friendship; it’s an act of betrayal. It may also be the tip of the iceberg. The boss may be doing this with others and creating a wide scale problem not just for you but also for them.
– If the boss has talked about you, it’s not acceptable. They may be too self-absorbed or immature to realize the damage their behavior has done. Despite that, to let it continue is only reinforcing bad behavior. You aren’t confronting them to save the world. You are confronting them to let them know, talking about you to others in the workplace is not how they treat YOU.
– It’s entirely possible that what you observed or were told was not what you think it was. Wouldn’t it be better to straighten out your understanding rather than fester?
Hopefully, these are good enough reasons for you to confront the situation.
1. Ask for private time to talk
– You don’t want to embarrass the boss or you risk your conversation going poorly. You also want to minimize distractions and interruptions.
2. Be direct
– If you speak in vague terms, they may not get it. Start your conversation by saying: “There is an issue, I’d like to discuss and resolve with you.”
3. Don’t assume
– Because there could be some level of misunderstanding, take that perspective when introducing the problem.
4. Stay calm
– I know this will be tense but don’t resort to yelling or emotional out bursts.
5. Focus on the problem and a solution
– By thinking of it as a problem to solve you reduce defensiveness.
6. Present the problem
– “It’s come to my attention that you shared with Mary your negative assessment of my work. If this is true, it appears you and I have a few problems to solve. Before going further, I’d like your response about whether or not this is the case.” This allows them straighten out any misunderstanding. If there is no misunderstand then:
7. Drill down on the problem
– “When you don’t give me direct feedback about your assessment of my performance but rather discuss it with others, it’s not acceptable. First, it undermines my authority and credibility with my subordinates (or peers). Next, it doesn’t help me improve if you don’t tell me directly. The worst part of this is that it destroys any trust I have with you. For others, and myself the lack of trust will negatively impact productivity, morale and output. “
8. Discuss and process
– Allow time for them to process and internalize what you have said. Do not except excuses or rationalization
9. Ask for a commitment
– Be specific and ask if you have their commitment to halt any future repeated behavior and to speak to you if and when they have issues with you or your work. Also ask for them to return to the person they disclosed to and acknowledge what they did was wrong and wouldn’t be repeated. This last step may be more than they can do but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask.
10. Thank them
– You should acknowledge them for solving this problem.
BTW, this process works well outside of work for personal situations of a similar nature.
It’s important for you to understand that people often behave they way they do because no one has taught them any other way to be. Just because they are the boss doesn’t mean they can’t learn something new from you.