Solution Saturday: Overruled by the Boss
Do you have any good articles on having a ‘clarifying conversation’ with your boss?
I have gone through a rough experience with my Division Director.
He made a people-decision without consulting with me. I was trying to recruit some people. Offers were accepted. He simply chose to pass on them while I was on vacation (I am a Branch Mgr).
I am meeting with him on Tuesday to have a conversation about the process.
I would appreciate any articles or suggestions that you might have.
Overruled by the Boss
It seems like, in the past, the boss simply signed off on new hires. But not this time. Your boss’s action undermines authority you feel you have.
I feel the sting of distrust and embarrassment in your email. He made you look weak and/or incompetent in the eyes of everyone involved.
Congratulations on setting up a meeting to discuss the issue.
#1. Resolve hot emotion before solving problems. Hot emotion may be caused by:
- Offense at feeling distrusted.
- Embarrassment at being overruled without giving your input. (It’s the boss’s prerogative to overrule other people’s decisions.)
- Indignation at losing authority – feeling undermined.
- Anger at unexpected deviation from past practices – feeling blindsided.
Our inner control freak gets hot when it loses control. (No offense intended with the use of ‘control freak’.)
#2. Don’t globalize. Hot emotion invites us to throw other logs on the fire – we globalize issues. One negative experience becomes motivation to redefine your entire role in your organization. It’s like an argument with your spouse that ends, “And you’re just like your mother.”
- Talk it through with someone, until you feel less emotion. You may need to go around the tree a few times until some of the heat dissipates.
- Interpret stress as enthusiasm to find great solutions.
- Take a slow walk through a park.
- Slow your breathing.
- Define what you want, even though you’re currently motivated by what you don’t want.
- Seek coaching or mentoring from outsiders.
- Don’t seek advice from allies or family. They tend to defend you.
#3. Embrace ‘and’. Hot emotion runs to either/or thinking. We draw self-destructive lines in the sand. Stay wide as long as possible.
#4. Act in ways that serve your best interest. I usually encourage people to act with the best interest of others in mind. In these cases, don’t shoot yourself in the foot.
#5. Use ‘I’ not ‘you’. I feel. I think. I would like.
#6. Don’t tell the boss what he thinks or why he did what he did. Explore.
We assign negative motivations to offenders and use them to justify atypical behaviors on our part.
#7. View this as leadership development. Sandpaper moments make us better or worse. How might you be made better through this sandpaper moment?
#8. Stay humble and open. Qualities like humility matter most when they are most difficult to practice.
#9. Focus on principles and assumptions, before specifics.
#10. Ask for a follow up, if things don’t go well. “Could we meet next week to keep working on this?” In the time between meetings get clear on what’s important to you.
- What type of relationship do you want with your boss?
- What are your nonnegotiables?
- How important is this job?
- What do you need to do to show respect to the boss?
- How might you do things that make you proud of your approach?
What issues should Overruled consider?
What suggestions do you have for overruled?
*I suspend the 300 word limit on Solution Saturday.
Excellent Article Dan – lots of good points and things to consider.
One question I would have for the author is whether this is a typical pattern – boss waits until he cannot be challenged (OP on Vacation) and then acts or an Oddity – I would approach the scenario differently depending on the pattern.
Would your advice differ if this was a pattern vs the first time?
Keeping a larger goal in mind makes sense – in a situation where the boss is consistently undermining then the question of whether you want to stay in that position may be part of the mix – and remaining calm and professional critical to getting a good reference 🙂
I always try to find a way to understand the behaviour in a way that makes sense. Assuming the boss has the best intentions why would he act that way? Perhaps he was rushed into a decision? Missed (or forgot) communication about the issue, Was stressed by something external, Had info that you don’t have yet of an upcoming hiring freeze, Wanted to look at internal candidates first.
In working with leaders I find that over 90% of conflicts are started with a communication breakdown based of differing assumptions. if you can track down the assumptions (yours and theirs) the solution is a lot easier to find.
Thanks Sharon. I appreciate you sharing your insights. The issue of patter seems essential to the response. Give the benefit of the doubt when it’s the first time.
People don’t leave organizations. They leave bosses. If it’s a pattern, it’s time to sharpen up the resume.
Thanks for pointing out that “People leave bosses.” In the corporate health and wellness world, this is something some of us talk about in the context of a wellness program. There are some interesting studies that show that a person’s stress level and overall health (including lower back pain) can be attributed to the relationship they have with their supervisor. Better managers can have a positive impact on their team’s health and wellbeing. Bad managers not only increase turnover rates (a big cost driver), but impact the health of the people they manage, which increases claims costs (another big cost driver).
If this was a one time issue, working through it with his boss makes sense. If this is a repeated behavior, for the sake of his own health and wellbeing, he may want to think about how this is impacting him. No job is worth your health.
This is golden –
Qualities like humility matter most when they are most difficult to practice.
Thanks Ken! Have a great weekend.
The solution starts at the source! Surely a meeting with the Boss is critical! Be prepared to discuss what the Boss expects of you and where we fit in. The distrustful actions by the Boss most likely could be major role change for you! Perhaps the Boss will clarify their actions, maybe not! Remember the Boss is the Boss, so tread lightly!
If this is a repeat performance then the Resume preperation may be in order! Stay true to your beliefs and be prepared to do what works for you!
Thanks Tim. I agree with “Remember the boss is the boss.” Confronting and challenging someone in authority can be perilous.But, it’s still important to do it when our values are violated.
Look for clarity. Be prepared to hear something you don’t want to hear. Cheers
Definitely not a good position to be in for the manager! Respectfully challenging the Boss could clarify some issues, although if this is a repeat action by the Boss, then “Asta LA Vista” could be the best solution, not that we are quitters but there is a definite issue if this has happened before.
Hello Dan. I haven’t commented in some time, but this post is timely. I’ve been with a new company for about a year, and have a couple of run-ins with my boss in the last few weeks. We have weekly one-on-ones scheduled, so I am planning to use many of these recommendations in the next session. Thanks for the post!
Great seeing you here today, Jay. Thanks for your candor and vulnerability. Best for the journey and don’t stay away so long next time. 🙂
Great post Dan! I love how you address the emotion issue. If anyone wants to dive deeper into this aspect of tough conversations and tough confrontations I would suggest reading both “Crucial Conversations” & “Crucial Confrontations”. A key thesis is “he who loses control of their emotions first loses”. This is a great paradigm to keep in mind in all our conversations and confrontations with others whether at home, work or play.
Thanks Mark. I really enjoyed both of those books. Thanks for adding them to this conversation.
thanks for the book suggestions — I’ve ordered them and can’t wait to get into the content!
Play it with an open mind. It’s possible that he had to act suddenly in circumstances where he couldn’t keep you in the loop because the events blew up without warning. Another time, he will want you at his side, helping him word the email because you do it better.
But keep your eyes open: if the organisational model seems to be that the superior undermines his subordinate on a regular basis, move on. They don’t deserve you.
Thanks Mitch. Right on. Keeping open when our emotions are hot is nearly impossible. When we cool down, we open up. Cheers
Hiring decisions are the most important decision an organisation makes.
If there have been multiple hiring decisions that the boss disagrees with, then either there has been a change in direction (as Sharon Q said) or there has been a serious failure to communicate expectations.
Questions to ask (if you don’t just get told):
– why did you reject these hires?
– why didn’t you consult me first?
– what do you want to happen next?
Questions to expect:
– why did you approve these hires?
– why didn’t you consult me first?
– what do you want to happen next?
Thanks Ben. You are so right. It’s all about the people. I find your comment useful. I might add that some of the questions might create defensiveness. During tough conversations, I like to find language that lowers defensiveness. Having said that, I respect the direction you set.
I think “what” questions are more useful than “why” questions. “Why” may have the feel of acccusation. Cheers
Dan = I love your posts – and even more I enjoy the discussions that come out of them. Thanks for all for their input. I often recommend this blog to new leaders in my “Transition to Leadership” program. You are making a difference in the world.
Thanks Sharon. I’m with you. Reader comments are insightful and useful. It’s a pleasure to be useful. Best for the journey.
Wow, I’m really feeling for this manager. Some great advice here, Dan, as well as in the comments. Would love to hear how this went for the person.