What You Should Know About Fighting With Your Boss

Mark Sagor



fightingWork environments have an abundance of stressors, but having a boss who behaves badly may be the worst.

The experience of being treated unfairly or rudely is always unpleasant, but when it comes at the hands of someone who has significant power over your income and career it can be devastating.

The problem is often compounded by the well-meaning, but consistently counter productive, advice from family, friends and co-workers in these situations. Their best intentions, to support you and be sympathetic to the injustices you are suffering at the hands of your boss, can inadvertently encourage and amplify your anger and sense of grievance.

Your anger and sense of grievance can lead you into some bad choices.

To deal successfully with a boss who is behaving badly it is much better to tamp down your anger so that you can act strategically and avoid making mistakes that will harm your cause.

Because what you should know about fighting with your boss is this: you will lose.

I’m sorry to say it but this has been my experience in 30 years of closely observing workplaces.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t disagree with your boss. Disagreements don’t have to evolve into angry personal battles.

I’m not saying you should tolerate illegal harassment. The situations I’m talking about don’t meet the legal standard of harassment.

I am not saying you shouldn’t look for and take another job. If this is a possibility for you, go for it!

I am saying that if you become preoccupied by your bosses unfair or over controlling behavior, and you begin pressing your case with anger (i.e that you are right and the boss is wrong) you will lose.

I am saying that if you allow righteous indignation to take over and lead you to enmity and an all out battle with your boss you will lose.

A battle is zero sum and results in a winner and a loser. That structure does not favor you. By definition your boss has the superior firepower to prevail in a winner take all fight. Even though you are in the right, you are still likely to lose.

Just ask the good guy who brought a knife to a gun fight with the bad guy.

You need a positive strategy and an empowered mindset to prevail.

  • Figure out what matters most to your boss and dispassionately analyze her management style. Use this information to understand what you can do to build a better relationship.
  • Do not display your anger or show disrespect to your boss, especially in front of colleagues. This will be understood as a threat and will provoke retaliation.
  • Do not disparage the boss when talking with colleagues. This bad mouthing will find it’s way back to the boss and escalate the conflict.
  • Don’t make the bosses career your career, i.e. don’t start thinking it’s your job to improve his managerial style.
  • Find ways to demonstrate that you are a team player and showcase your discipline and tenacity.
  • Consult with HR if you are able to maintain a positive approach as recommended above.
  • Consult with your EAP if you are too agitated and angry to maintain a positive approach.

Although the power differential is clearly on the boss’s side, time can be on yours if you don’t allow your anger to degrade your strategic ability.

Many terrible bosses self-implode eventually and, if you play your cards right, you could be there to see it.