After Hours

10 things you should (and shouldn't) do if you're mad at your boss

If your manager pushes you too far, it might be tempting to channel Conan O'Brien. But before things get out of hand, check out this alternative advice.

The other day I was interviewed for a story titled "Conan O'Brien is living the ultimate employee fantasy." In venting his frustrations with NBC's management, Conan achieved personal satisfaction, high ratings, and $40 million to go away.

Sure, he burned some bridges. But look at it this way: NBC screwed him and he vented. That's a wash in my book. All in all, I'd say he made out okay.

But the whole incident got me thinking: We hear loads about bosses who are jerks, but what about employees who are jerks? What about public displays of vehement disagreement bordering on insubordination? I mean, when and how is it okay to disagree with the boss? Is it always okay to speak your mind? Is it ever a good idea to disparage your management, as Conan did?

To answer these and other thorny questions, I've come up with a set of rules. If you're angry at your boss or disagree with management and feel the need to speak up, ignore this list at your peril.

Note: This article originally appeared as an entry in BNET's The Corner Office blog. It's also available as a PDF download.

Tobak's 10 rules of management conflict

1: Stay calm

Never react in anger or blow your stack. If you're so PO'd that you can't trust yourself to be calm, go away and come back when you can be. The workplace is no place for that kind of behavior, period.

2: Attack the problem, not the person

When you criticize or attack someone personally, you risk burning a bridge. Focus on the real issues at hand. You know, what the company actually pays you to do.

3: Be open and honest

The second you grit your teeth, cross your arms, and close your mind, you give in to stubborn childish behavior. But if you remain open and keep your wits about you, you'll manage to do the right thing in a tough situation.

4: Don't lose perspective

Try to remember that you're being paid to do a job, not to fight a war. The workplace is about business. You know, customers, products, that sort of thing. It's not about you... or your boss.

5: Try to be empathetic

Put yourself in your boss' shoes and try to understand his or her perspective. If you can't do that, or you're not sure what it is, ask. Your assumptions may be wrong. If your boss does the same, next thing you know, you have detente.

6: Take the high road

Taking the high road doesn't mean staying quiet when something needs to be said. It means saying it at a time and place and in a manner that's reasonable and respectful of all present. If you kick yourself afterward, you probably didn't do it right.

7: Have faith in yourself

The workplace is no place for yes-men. You were hired for a reason, and it wasn't to blindly march along with the pack. If that's what management wants, you work for a crappy company.

8: Don't go at it in public

If you do, be prepared to apologize in public and, worst case, be fired for insubordination. Accomplished managers and executives really do not like to be publicly eviscerated. Would you?

9: Then let them have it

As long as you follow the preceding eight rules, it's okay to go for it. Just try to be civilized.

10: Disagree and commit

This comes from Andy Grove's Intel. Keeping your mouth shut when you disagree isn't being a good soldier. But disagreeing, losing the fight, and committing to help the winning plan succeed, now that's being a good soldier.

Following these rules will do wonders for your management career. Who knows; maybe you can be the next Andy Grove.


Check out 10 Things... the newsletter

Get the key facts on a wide range of technologies, techniques, strategies, and skills with the help of the concise need-to-know lists featured in TechRepublic's 10 Things newsletter, delivered every Friday. Automatically sign up today.

11 comments
ravi2010
ravi2010

Grate job 10 things could it 20 things Ravi

jkameleon
jkameleon

Being mad as boss is not your job, it's not what you are paid for. Being mad at your boss is your boss's boss duty.

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

But for a cool $40 million I would burn all of my career bridges in a heartbeat! What Conan did worked for him and him alone. I'm not sure what his lifestyle is, but for most of us regular joe's...a 40 mil lump payment would be enough to boost our lifestyle, never work again and leave our kids a sizable inheritance. That being said, I think number 2 and number 4 are most often abused. I notice that many workers tend to have a small problem. If they fail to address the issue, they focus on it causing things to get blown out of proportion. I can't really chime in as I have an excellent management staff. They are mostly all female and for whatever reason, they have been the most pleasant yet task oriented staff I've ever worked with. They always focus in on the task at hand, but they never lose sight of who key employees are, who bailed them out of a pickle and who got them into that pickle to start with.

gerry.wilson
gerry.wilson

Be interesting to see a similar list, but from the perspective of the Boss....ie 10 Things you should (or shouldn't) do when your employee is mad at you !

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Give no respect, you get none. How does commiting to failure help anybody but your manager when it comes to scapegoat time? You put yourself in my shoes first. Attack the problem not the person... You are really crap at management. This sort of approach will work once maybe twice with each each employee who disagrees with you, after that wear clean undies.

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

I liked the article. What I found interesting is that some of rules also apply to rules for a successful marriage, such as attack the problem not the person. I remember learning about "I statements." "When you" _____ "I feel "______. It keeps the arguement on topic and can help avoid hurtful comments (not that it always works). I think another point is to respect the position. I am blessed to have a great boss. He is respectful and listens but I think that sometimes people forget that he is still the boss. I think that this happens when people are promoted from within.

jck
jck

I've had that experience too: most female managers tend to be better at actually leading and managing their staff. I had a boss once, and she never laid blame in meetings. She always focused on what the problem was, what was/might be causing it, and what direction would best solve the issue and put things right. If the other management at that company had been more like her, I might still be with them.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

waiting for that one. From their perspective, you have no right to be....

jck
jck

My boss? He's not an absolute arse. However, there were some agreed-upon terms before I started my tenure here. Since starting my employ, he has ventured to break each of them. Reasons stated were ranging from comments from other employees (which IMHO, he should have told them I had a different arrangement with him than they did), to no reason whatsoever for doing so. Do I get any respect? No. Unfortunately, that doesn't come with what I do for a living. I am a code gopher to the folks here. If I get it done ASAP, it's just what's expected. If it takes longer than some bean counter thinks it should, I'm "unproductive". I agree though. I won't give respect to anyone who doesn't pay it to me as well. As well, I have been nice for long enough. And at this point, I am looking at options that friends and colleagues have been presenting to me. I won't stay where I am not acknowledged by my techincal peers, and where I am treated like less than a contributor.

Serdarserdar
Serdarserdar

We already have SharePoint (not 2010) and is purely a piece of dung for the purposes we use our Public Folders in Exchange. In our business, we must be able to go back to correspondence since the product was installed -- currently, as much as 10 years. Prior to that, we used Lotus Notes, but poorly implemented for the correspondence. To try to move the information to SharePoint now (several terabytes), would cost a fortune in time. Not to mention that the "search" in SharePoint is far slower, and inaccurate, compared to the tools we use in Exchange. friv araba oyunlar??

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

where those higher up the food chain are assumed to be right because they are higher up the food chain. Almost as accurate as the assumption that they are higher up the food chain BECAUSE they get things right. Don't fight city hall, your boss knows best, at least they can never be wrong, yada, yada yada.... SSDA

Editor's Picks