I M STILL NERVOUS ABOUT stepping up to my boss and openly disagreeing or perhaps even confronting her for not following procedure or causing me problems. I could pay dearly and for the rest of my life.
When it comes to confronting poor performance ”and the stakes are high ”people tend to err on the side of caution: Better to live with your existing circumstances than try to take corrective action, fail, and end up losing twice . You re left with the same bad circumstances because nothing has changed, and now the person who holds all the marbles is really upset with you and soon will exact revenge . This isn t merely a problem involving the hierarchy. It could happen with a close confidant or a loved one as well. Loved ones won t fire you from your job, but they can fire you from the relationship, and that can be even more painful.
Before we offer some advice, let s be clear about something. Over the years we have seen bosses who appeared to be narcissistic or authoritarian to the core . Their very purpose appeared to be to stay in absolute control, and anything that threatened that purpose was a threat to them.
In these cases all bets are off. Anything short of groveling will be insufficient. In these cases you have a tough choice to make. You need to choose between coping and cutting out (more on this later).
With that said, we need to be clear about a second point. There are far fewer of these kinds of bosses around than you d guess from people s complaints. Ninety percent of your boss s defensiveness is largely avoidable. We know because we ve seen highly skilled individuals approach people who others thought were clinically controlling and get away with it .
Here s the bottom line. The people we watched get through to the toughest bosses differed in soul as much as they differed in skill. They were masters at helping their bosses feel safe because they were masters at seeing problems from their bosses point of view. It was easy for them to create Mutual Purpose because they spent as much time contemplating how the problem behavior they were about to confront was creating problems for the boss as they did fretting about the problems it was creating for them . They were incredibly effective at making it motivating for the boss because they had thought deeply about the natural consequences of the boss s behavior ”on the boss. It s little wonder that the boss welcomed their empowering insight.
Although we don t want to excuse self-centered bosses for their impatience and defensiveness, we do want to suggest that if in reaction to their selfishness we become similarly self-absorbed, we ll never have the insight and compassion we need to succeed. We ll never be able to create enough safety to dissolve the boss s defenses. Our well-intended influence will be crushed by the weight of selfishness.
This is not a blame the victim speech. It is about empowering the weak. If you want greater influence with a powerful and defensive person, what you typically need is not more power but more empathy. What you need is not a bigger hammer but a bigger heart. If you can step away from yourself and consider how the problem behavior is affecting the other person as well as how it s affecting you , you ll have a greater capacity to produce better outcomes for both of you. Besides, people never hammer their bosses without hammering themselves as well.
Let s get back to choosing between coping and cutting out. When another person is acting in ways that bother you, you have four options. You can carp, confront, cope, or cut out. Carping is the one bad option in this list. You don t really resolve the problem, you hang around and complain, and nothing gets better. In fact, if you complain and moan enough, you harm your own health, not to mention what you re doing to everyone else.
Confronting is your best choice for resolving the issue while building on the relationship. That s what this book has been saying. Coping requires a bit of an explanation. You ve done your best to confront and resolve the problem, but you ve been unsuccessful . In fact, you ve given up any hope of being successful. Now you can either cope or cut out. Cutting out is obvious. Half of all couples choose this option, and millions of people quit their jobs every year. Coping, in contrast, means that you ve decided that the issue isn t big enough to justify ending the relationship. You re not going to divorce your spouse or quit your job, nor are you going to sit around and carp.
To cope properly, you must tell yourself the rest of the story. Most people are reasonable, rational, and decent. You haven t been able to work through your differences because rational people have come to different and reasonable conclusions. Your boss isn t an authoritarian moron; she s just trying to make sure that her point of view is taken into consideration. Your husband isn t a selfish idiot; he just forgets to put down the toilet seat in the middle of the night. Forgetting makes him human, not insensitive and uncaring. To cope, you tell the rest of the story and believe it.
Healthy people don t fake coping. They don t hang around and moan, and groan, and complain, and nag, and play ain t it awful , and wallow in self-pity, and bad-mouth everyone in the known universe, and talk endlessly about being the big person who has found a way to show tolerance ”and then have the nerve to say that they re coping. No, that is carping, not coping, and carping is the bad option.