How to Stand Up to Your Boss (and Earn Their Respect in the Process)


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Thursday, August 5, 2021

Rocking the boat at work is a daunting prospect, but by standing up for yourself you may find you gain more respect and improve your working environment.

Article 4 Minutes
How to Stand Up to Your Boss (and Earn Their Respect in the Process)

Very few people relish confrontation. But when the person you're feeling a need to confront is your boss, that reluctance is magnified - even when you know you're being treated unfairly. After all, we're conditioned to think that managers are in charge and so mustn't be challenged.

Sometimes, though, even good bosses ask more of their employees than is appropriate. And by acting to curb this behavior, you could not only improve your working environment, but also earn their respect.

In fact, self-advocacy is important for both your career and your mental health. Studies have shown toxic work environments can lead to depression and health issues among employees, not to mention decreased productivity for businesses.

However, according to research from Ohio State University and the University of Georgia, employees who stand up for themselves feel less victimized and more satisfied with their working lives overall.

Has your boss displayed any of the following behavior?

  • Micromanaging every project
  • Passing your work off as theirs
  • Not giving you opportunities to do what you're capable of
  • Passing you up for promotion
  • Expecting you to regularly work outside agreed hours

If the answer is yes, then it could be time to make a stand. But how can you do it without worrying that you'll be fired? Here are some pointers.

1.  Check yourself

Before you start, are you certain the problem lies with them? Can you truthfully say that your work and conduct have been of the highest standard? If not, maybe your boss is in the right. You need to ensure that the issue isn't simply a clash of personalities, lack of initiative on your part, or the nature of the job (which you knew when you took it on).

Another consideration is how long you plan to stay. If it's your dream career and you hope to remain with the company for many years, then by all means take action to improve the situation.

If, on the other hand, this is a temporary role that you're only doing for experience, it might be better to bide your time until you can hand in your resignation.

2.  Have the right attitude

If you're sure that you can't go on like this any longer, don't approach the matter like the maverick hero in an action movie; you must remain professional, no matter how you feel. Getting angry and defensive means you’ll lose control and the potential to be taken seriously, which won't result in them changing their ways at all.

That's why you should take a few minutes before you make your approach to ensure you're feeling calm. Perhaps check out the 'Chimp Management' techniques pioneered by psychiatrist Professor Steve Peters if you feel you need help getting your emotions under control.

3.  Pick the right time

Choosing your moment is also key. Check first that your boss isn't in the middle of some kind of crisis that could make them less likely to handle perceived criticism well.

You should book a one-to-one for this rather than bringing it up in a whole-team meeting - and don't attempt the conversation by email because you're scared. This not only looks unprofessional, but also has the potential to allow words to be misinterpreted.

4.  Be confident - or fake it

Even if you're terrified, it's vital to remember that you're doing this because it's essential. As such, don't stare at the floor, mumble and apologize - make your point the way you really want to.

Look up some tips on being assertive (such as correcting your posture and maintaining eye contact) to ensure your body language projects confidence, even if you're faking it.

5.  Show specific examples

You need to have some specific examples of your unfair treatment if you're going to avoid this looking too accusatory, so prepare beforehand and point out how, for example, you were checked up on three times that morning or asked to work late every day last week. Which brings us neatly on to...

6.  Make it a two-way street

...showing your boss precisely why you feel the way you do and enquiring why this treatment might have occurred. Maybe they've been feeling the pressure from above and haven't realized you've been struggling to organize childcare while you're stuck at the office every Saturday.

Empathizing and sharing is a great way to get your point across, show that you're a reasonable human being and help them see your point of view.

7.  Organize solutions

Finally, make it clear that you've taken this step because you want and need changes. Be ready to make suggestions such as pushing back deadlines, sharing workloads or working from home if that's what you want in future.

Usually, you'll find that simply having difficult conversations like this is enough to lead to improvements and garner more respect. However, if you try the above and it still doesn't work, maybe it's time to think about making a more formal complaint - or perhaps even moving on to pastures new.

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