Confronting your manager


I HAVE always skirted around confrontations with my manager. My thinking is that since they are in position, I need to follow whatever they ask me to do because at the end of the day, they will be the one evaluating me. Of course, there will be instances when they already trust you to tell them honestly what they need to hear. But until that time comes, you need to be very careful in dealing with your manager.

In a past organization, I was caught in an awkward position when my manager set aside our agenda and asked me point blank what kind of a manager he was. He told me to be brutally honest because he needed to know how he could improve as a leader. Even though he made that assurance, I was still hesitant to tell him because I knew it would redefine our professional relationship. If you get caught in this situation, what would you do?

There are many ways of dealing with a confrontation with your manager, but you need to understand first how your own emotions are affecting the way you are dealing with your manager. Sometimes, our own biases and preconceived notions of how a manager should lead can bring about a distorted view of what your manager can actually do. Managers are naturally put on a pedestal and one mistake on their part can lead to disillusionment and disappointment.

So before confronting your manager, assess the risks. You do not need to confront your manager with every little thing they do wrong. Their position evidently puts a target on their back, and they are subjected to different pressures from all parts of the organization. As a member of their team, part of your role is to make sure they look good in front of other departments and offices because your manager represents you and the entire team. You need to ensure that they have everything they need to make the best representation of the team.

In my case, I had to make him understand that he was the leader, and I had to be honest with him in how his actions and decisions made me feel as his subordinate and also the same impacted the entire team. I backed it up with concrete instances to establish that it was a pattern of behavior and not just a one-off. Doing such helps managers understand how their actions affect their team, particularly in terms of  productivity and efficiency. Citing specific events can help managers look at their actions objectively and pave the way to want to change.

But take note that when my manager asked me, he was in a receptive mood to really understand what he could do to improve his leadership style and how he could positively affect us and the entire team. Not many leaders are as receptive or transparent to their people managers, so I took it as an opportunity to have a better relationship with him and the team.

In cases when you need to confront your manager, the time and place is crucial in being heard, and for your message to be perceived as helpful and not received as critical to an unwarranted degree. Once your manager thinks you are just being critical, everything you say helps them put up a bigger wall to protect themselves, or, worse, your words can be used against you later during performance evaluations. So, choose the time and place that your manager is most receptive.

What also helped me in telling my manager what he needed to hear was by looking at shared goals. Start your confrontation with a mindset that you and your manager want the same thing—be it hitting certain metrics, preserving teamwork, or even professional career development. Once it is established what you both want, it becomes easier to tell them how certain actions and decisions have deviated both of you from achieving the same goals. This helps you put aside your own emotions, focus on the issues, and work on a solution that benefits you both.

Criticizing your manager is very tricky. You need to put a certain spin into what you say so you don’t end up damaging your existing relationship. Make sure that every criticism you say is coming from a positive point of view. Always inject a recommendation for every criticism. This way, you are not only pointing out your manager’s opportunities for development, but also helping them lead better. It will create an impression that you are an ally and supporter of their leadership.

There could also be instances when, after confronting your manager, you realize that you were in the wrong after they had explained themselves. In such cases, ask for forgiveness right away and ask what you can do to make up for it. This shows your willingness to learn and take accountability for your actions—behaviors that make for a great people manager. It also shows your desire to right the wrong you have done and provides you insight into how they think and a glimpse into what you need to do later on when you take over their role.

Your manager is your stepping stone to better career opportunities, but at the same time he or she can be the stumbling block that prevents you from achieving your professional goals. Your manager will fail you at some point later on. But it does not mean they have become bad managers. It means they simply are human capable of committing mistakes. And when that time comes, your reaction will spell the difference between subservient acquiescence or a synergistic partnership.

Image courtesy of Adib Hussain on Unsplash

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