How do you handle conflict with your boss?

One of the steps to becoming a truly authentic leader is “communicating with clarity”. This is especially difficult in a conflict situation and needs a cool head and a clear communication strategy to tackle it. 

We asked our tribe to answer the following questions around handling the tricky situation of - Conflict with your boss.

Should you or should you not address a problem with your boss?

Yes - absolutely - any conflict or problem should be tackled and resolved as without doing so a growing resentment may occur on both sides (employee/boss) and this will be not only detrimental to your career, but the boss and the wider team.

Nipping this in the bud is always the best option but it’s often only once the anger or frustration has started to show that people seek to find a resolution. Without resolution work productivity will suffer, team morale will dip and results will be impacted.

What 3 tips would you give on talking out a problem with your boss?

Tip 1. Strategy:

Ensure that you fully understand the situation, as best as you can, before going into a discussion with your boss. Try and research how this situation arrived, who is driving the agenda and why?. Is the problem being imposed on your boss from above a collaborative approach will work well or is it being imposed by them when a personal response would be more appropriate. Also understand what the wider impacts are across the team and seek support from others.

Build a set of facts, numbers, results that support your argument and utilise these in the conversation so that it becomes less emotional an more rational and therefore plays to both left brain and right brain thinking. Does your boss like things in writing, round table meetings, graphs etc and utilise the appropriate resources to better connect with the leader. In addition consider the options available to resolve this situation - don’t just go wth a problem but consider solutions.

This will drive the conversation down the south of resolution as opposed to just staring in the conflict. 

Tip 2. Exercise:

Work through this exercise in a private space. Take four pieces of paper and write a number on each - 1 then 2, 3, 4 -  and place them in four corners of a room. You may ask a trusted colleague, friend or family member to support you in this process and take a few notes or open up the dictation software on your phone or laptop so that you can fully consider this afterwards to support your strategy.  

Start by standing on number 1. This is you. Take a few moments to really ground yourself into this situation and speak out what are all of your thought and feelings about the issue. 

Next move to stand on number 2. This is your boss. Ground yourself again and sit in their space, with their hat on so to speak and consider whats going on for them. Speak this out an record it carefully considering everything that may be going on for your boss and the challenges that they are currently facing. 

Move onto number 3. This is an independent observer. Standing on number 3 you are effectively standing in the shoes of an independent observer who has seen both your situation and that of your boss. Consider what advice or guidance they may give. This can be improved by imagining you are in the shoes of a boss you respect and whose advice you value and ask yourself what would they do?

Then onto number 4: This is the universe. Standing here consider what else form your team, organisation, friends, other organisations, outside resources, may do in these situations and were you may have seen similar situations before, in your previous company, in your sports team, church group, family etc. Consider how these situations were resolved and what you can learn form that and what other resources you may need. 

Finally step back onto number 1: Back to you again. Having taken into account all of the other moving parts how would you now consider the approach and how would you do things differently than before? What have you learnt form this process and how would you change what you are doing as a result. 

Tip 3: Values:

What are the values of the organisation? What are your own personal values? Make sure that any communication you have, especially during a conflict, is in alignment with these values. One very helpful value here is personal responsibility. This is where you take responsibility for whatever you have brought to create this issue. Have you taken on too much work and are now stressed about delivering this. Have you promised to deliver something an not done so. Do you turn up late for work.

Explore what the underlying issues are for this without blaming others (or transport in the case of getting to work on time). Taking full personal responsibility for your own share of the issue and declaring that to your boss is not a sign of weakness but is actually a courageous thing to do which is more likely to encourage your boss to do the same and help to find a resolution. 

Bonus Tip: Mentor/Coach:

In all situations like this, and indeed in all business situations I believe that everyone should have a coach. Having spent 30 years in both the worlds of business an sport I try to take the best form sport an date it into the workplace.

Every top performing athlete has a coach and every team has a coaching squad a swell as a captain (your boss). So find yourself a mentor form within the business or a coach form outside and invest time in improving yourself, realising your full potential and communication clearly - then you are far more likely to be the boss one day too!

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