Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

Fear Factor

A few months back I was teaching a conflict resolution class for a Fortue 100 firm and discussing how to use I-statements” to share your feelings and concerns with another worker. One of the participants in the class had asked how to handle an aggressive and rude supervisor and I suggested that she, assertively but not aggressively, set some clear boundaries about how she wanted to be treated.

I recommended saying something like:

I am confused. It seems like I might have upset you in some way. It feels to me like you’ve been sort of aggressive or angry lately and I want to make sure it isn’t anything I have done. What can we do to help us get along better?

When I finished saying this sentence she immediately replied, If I ever said anything even close to that I’d be vaporized. I’d lose my job in an instant. She made it clear, I could never talk to my boss like that.

Astonishing, but I hear it often, people who are truly scared of their managers. Employees that are completely afraid to speak up on their own behalf. Workers who are convinced that even a little push-back against unacceptable managerial behavior would result in immediate dismissal.

Many times I will ask if they have ever actually seen someone get fired for trying to ask a boss to treat them with more respect. They say, No, but I am sure it would happen. You just cannot talk to our boss that way she’d wipe you out.

Here is my thought on this: I don’t believe it. I do not believe that if you approached your manager in a professional, assertive and non-confrontational way in an effort to improve your working relationship and establish clear boundaries of treatment and behavior — that you would be fired on the spot. I truly believe that if done correctly, the vast majority of managers would respond positively. Oh, they might be a bit defensive at first, they might be hurt or confused, but I believe that in the end they would want to work with you to make the situation better.

On the other hand, I am sure there are some bosses who would fly off the handle and get very angry. If that were the outcome in your case, you have learned something very valuable. You work for an ass, time to start looking for a new job!

This all comes down to one of my key teaching points:

You Train People How To Treat You.

Let them walk on you without complaint and they will use you as a door mat. But set fair, professional and reasonable boundaries of appropriate behavior and in most cases they will respect them and you. If they don’t find someplace else to work right away. Life is too short to work for an ass.