At some point in your career, you’re bound to be in a position where you’re unhappy at work, and your boss is in a position to help.
Maybe you’ve gotten a performance review that you found to be unfair, or you feel like you’ve been looked over for a pay increase for far too long; perhaps you think you’re being mismanaged, or your coworker’s behaviour has been affecting your productivity.
Whatever the case, you need to address the problem — but tread carefully, because saying the wrong thing when you meet with your boss could seriously jeopardize your career.
The life coaches and corporate coaches at the New York-based Handel Group help individuals with these types of problems all the time using the Handel Method — a coaching style developed by founder Lauren Zander that gets participants to figure out how long-held lies to themselves and bad habits have been preventing them from living the life they want.
The group has developed guidelines for having a difficult conversation, and we’ve adapted them specifically to work situations.
1. Get permission.
Don’t get too emotional and send a loaded email explaining why you deserve a raise, or ambush your boss at the coffee machine telling them that you hate your coworker. You want to have your manager’s full attention when you have this difficult conversation, and you need to have it on their time.
Don’t get into too many details in your request. Something along the lines of, “I’d like to discuss my review. When would be a good time to talk for 10 minutes?” will suffice.
2. Explain the situation and context.
When you have a chance to sit down with your boss, begin by plainly stating your intention. Don’t waste time by talking in circles, but don’t be too aggressive, either.
“I’m excited about this quarter’s goals and I’d like to have us working as efficiently as possible” is going to yield much better results than, “I feel like you’ve been micromanaging me.”
3. Frame the conversation gracefully.
You have a problem that you want to address for the benefit of both you and your boss but you run the risk of sounding like an aggressor if you immediately jump to all of the ways you’ve been wronged. “You are trying to put the person at ease so they are prepared to listen,” the Handel guidelines state.
If you’ve got a problem with your manager or coworker, there’s certainly a chance that you’re at fault, even if it’s only been that you haven’t previously communicated your grievances so that they could be remedied.
Before you proceed to explain how you’ve felt wronged, you should first admit your shortcomings in the situation.
4. State your issue.
This is the reason why you’re having the conversation. By now you’ve set your boss at ease and grabbed their attention.
Explain your case, always mindful to not pose your words as attacks or whiny complaints. Remember that you’re neither an aggressor nor a victim. You just believe things can be better for everyone.
5. Ask for their perspective.
Show your boss that you’re not acting selfishly by turning the conversation over to them. What do they think of your concerns? Have they been under a different impression?
6. Arrive at a mutual understanding.
Listen closely to your boss’ feedback and ask for clarification if necessary. Neither of you should leave with unanswered questions, even if your conclusions are different.
Be careful of making excuses if you don’t like what your manager has to say. Explain your points further if necessary but don’t get defensive.
7. Arrive at a resolution.
Note where there may be any discrepancies in your viewpoints and negotiate an agreement you can both be satisfied with.
Maybe, for example, your boss doesn’t feel like you are eligible for a raise at this time, but if you meet a specific set of goals by a specific date you can then have that conversation.
Make promises to each other that you can both benefit from.
Your conversation may be based on a source of discomfort or even anger, but don’t feel like you’re trying to win a fight with your manager. The goal of any difficult conversation is to open up honesty between both parties and at work this can lead to a more productive and efficient team.
“It’s about being mature and being honest, and having a real relationship,” the Handel guide says.
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