Resolving Conflict with My Boss

“What is the emotionally intelligent way to handle conflict with a superior at work?”

This is one of the most common questions I get asked during training and interviews. Employees are afraid of retaliation, in the form of poor performance reviews, getting fired, or even being blacklisted in their fields. However. it is important to consider the alternative to not addressing the issue right away. The anxiety of working with what feels like an aggressive superior in an unwelcoming environment can lead to poor performance, getting fired, or even getting blacklisted in one’s field. So here are some things to consider when using emotional intelligence.

Being emotionally intelligent does not mean you lack emotion; it means you can express your emotion in a way that is appropriate for the situation. A key component of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to accurately name one’s emotions. Before meeting with your supervisor or manager get clear on how you feel and why. Be sure to ask yourself the four questions.

What’s the standard? Personally, what do you need to do to remain in integrity with who you are? Map out what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior from you. No matter the outcome you must live with yourself so respond in a way you can be proud of. Also, keep in mind that your company likely has a policy to handle workplace conflict. Get familiar with it before you decide on your next steps.

Respond to the conflict with the end goal in mind. What does resolution look like for you? How can both parties win? Examining your motivation before discussing an issue with your manager can help you clearly articulate your desired outcome and increase the probability of that occurring.

Lastly, consider the relationships involved. How is this conflict impacting your performance (your relationship with the company)? Your relationship with your team? Your supervisor’s relationship with the company?  I have learned that sometimes it really isn’t personal. At times supervisors can respond out of their own stress, and frustration. Being empathetic can help you understand their perspective while also addressing the issue clearly and defining your boundaries.

You’ve done the work on yourself and have decided to move forward in confronting your boss. Here are my tips regarding that.

Create a paper trail. Send the invite. Let them know you would like to discuss how you can work together to improve your working relationship. The one who addresses the problem is the leader in solving the problem.

Define the problem clearly. Use examples. Use “I statements” instead of “you statements.” Ask questions. Don’t make assumptions.

Follow-Up via email. A quick thank you with a brief summary will allow you to complete the paper trail on the issue.

Confrontation can be scary and overwhelming at times. Please keep in mind there are times when our perceived issues with management may be a simple misunderstanding. If you can’t resolve the conflict, consider moving on to a different role or company, no one should have to work in a work environment that is harmful to their mental well-being.


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