Dear Dr. Faizal,
My boss and I used to get along fine but lately, it seems we’re always butting heads. I guess we’re both strong headed and I could choose not to argue. But I care about my work and feel compelled to speak up when I think there’s a better way. Apparently, she wants to work with “yes-people” who always agree with her. What should I do to make things better for me?
– Big Horn Sheep
Dear Big Horn Sheep,
People usually get along “fine” when the relationship is new and they’re being polite with others. I take it that as you spend more time with your boss, you recognize her strengths and limitations. And, for the sake of your company, you’d like to help your boss see that there could be “a better [than her] way” sometimes.
It sounds like your boss needs to feel safe at work, and it’s the “yes-people,” who, by agreeing with her decisions, give her the security she needs. Your boss – being the boss, needs to be in charge and have the power. If her decisions are questioned, she feels threatened and may assume that she is losing control of his role as being superior to his employees, something that many bosses demand, sometimes to the detriment of the company of which they are leaders.
Your boss needs validation that she is doing a good job. At times when you think “there’s a better way” of doing something, instead of saying ‘no’ to her, or telling her your ideas, thereby discrediting your boss’s ideas, ask her if there could be other options. This will allow her to review the situation a bit more closely and chances are that she would come up with a few more options – better options. If you see a better option that you agree with (now that you have more to choose from), pick one and let her take the credit. Tell her, “The more you thought about it, the better your options got. Good job, boss!”
If you still believe that your way is better yet – and you’d like to share your idea with your boss – first compliment your boss on coming up with good options, and then ask her (begin with, “I’m just wondering…”) if she’d be open to hearing you out. By getting her permission, your boss is validated and still feels in control. You could say something like this: “So what I’m hearing is that you think _______. Is this correct? (she is validated). I’m just wondering [a non-threatening approach] if you’d be open to hearing another perspective? Could we perhaps think more about this?” Guide her toward another option – your option. Even though she’ll take the credit (let her), you’ll know it’s your idea.
As your boss feels validated, she may develop the self-esteem and security to acknowledge you as playing a key part in ‘her’ decisions.