Everyone Should Work for a Bad Boss … at Least Once

heather-ford-6fiz86Ql3UA-unsplashYou’ve likely heard the statement that employees don’t leave companies, they leave bad bosses. Despite how troubling this can be for those playing the character in a story ruled by a “bad boss”, I also subscribe to the theory that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You can become the hero of your own work story.

Bad Boss Benefits

Since working for a bad boss isn’t life threatening, I believe working for one in the early stages of your career helps bring gratitude for the good bosses you’re sure to have later, and more importantly, the experience builds your muscle of resilience. Bad bosses provide an opportunity to strategize and build stamina as well as develop skills in communication and conflict resolution. They also help you get clarity on personal boundaries.

You may say, “This all sounds good in theory, but you have no idea how bad a boss can be. I work for the worst of the worst.” After I share my brief story, you be the judge. Regardless of which one of us claims the prize, you’re obviously a survivor of a bad boss. My hope is that your bad boss experience allowed you to take away some valuable insights into who you are and how to lead better.

My Bad Boss Story*

I was in a position for nearly a year, when my boss moved into another management position, leaving the opening to be backfilled by Mr. Smith*. I’d casually known Mr. Smith for several years as a colleague at the same site. He had quite the reputation as a bully, and his views of women were a bit disturbing. I felt fortunate not to report through his group, especially after hearing some of his beliefs during lunch table conversation: “Women have to work three times as hard to get the credit that a man does.” He didn’t say it as if it was an injustice, but rather that women were intellectually inferior and had to put forth more effort to produce the same results.

Fast forward into the story six months. One employee from Mr. Smith’s previous department told me people had waged bets on who was going to survive: Mr. Smith or me. And the odds were not in my favor.

Now back to the beginning of my story. Several days after the announcement, I walked into my office to find a FACT Sheet tucked neatly into the corner of my desk blotter. In case you think I might have made this up, I’ve included the original note with my bad boss’s name blacked out for privacy. The FACT Sheet was a black comedy note, more ominously black than funny. What would you think if you found this note on your desk?

FACT Sheet

….Mr. Smith’s people are more apt to gain or loose body weight in an undesirable fashion

…Work priorities change on a minute by minute basis

…Work priorities are inversely proportional to the order you accomplish goals and complete tasks

…Long term health risks include hair loss, anorexia, obesity, insomnia, paranoia, mental and physical burnout

…Mr. Smith is ALWAYS RIGHT

…If Mr. Smith is wrong, see above

…Most people have a better chance of seeing God than an easy day in the Mr. Smith’s group

Although I knew it wouldn’t be a best seller, I soon started a journal because of the deteriorating relationship with Mr. Smith. I tried forcing clarity of priorities, definition of work quality, deliverables, timing, and expectations. Nothing seemed to work. It was like trying to reason with the unreasonable.

I swore to myself I wouldn’t give up; I was cutting my teeth as a manager. I knew if I could survive Mr. Smith, I could survive any boss. At this point, I didn’t know about the big bet against my survival. If I had known, it probably would have incentivized me even more.

2020-08-30_155112I never thought to go to Human Resources. The HR staff knew of Mr. Smith’s reputation, and I didn’t want to be considered the trouble-maker. I needed to figure this out on my own. Mr. Smith’s bullying style was not so much verbal abuse as it was written beratement, accusations, and name calling through the email system. On some level, I appreciated that Mr. Smith hid behind the email system, because it made for perfect journal documentation.

Deep down inside, bullies are cowards and deeply disconnected from people. One “undisclosable” email was the straw that broke the proverbially camel’s back, and I found a voice that I didn’t know I had. My response to Mr. Smith’s email was that I wasn’t going to tolerate any more of his abusive emails, and I demanded an in-person meeting. He sheepishly agreed to meet, and I firmly told him my boundaries going forward. All disagreements were to be in-person, behind closed doors. I demanded clarity in writing from him and boundaries on my decision-making. I told him in no uncertain terms how I expected to be treated. I also asked him to write down what he expected of me—everything. He could always add more to his list later.

You could say that I gave the bully a bit of his own medicine. I would say I gave it to him firmly and respectfully. I said I was here to serve him and help make this team look good, and these were my boundaries in how I expected him to treat me. I would do anything he asked to the best of my ability as long as it was not illegal, immoral, or detrimental to the company. Guess what happened next? I never had another issue with Mr. Smith again. I was a bit worried when the next performance cycle came around. What would be on my appraisal? Answer: HIGHLY EXCEEDS.

Bad Boss Lessons

Today, reflecting back on my bad boss story, it’s more comedy than it is black. More seriously, the daily hardship in working for a bad boss was a blessing in disguise. I got to strategize, try different approaches, learn how resilient I was, and ultimately, I got clarity on what I was and wasn’t willing to tolerate in a work relationship. I consider that a win.

Now that you’ve heard my bad boss story, what’s yours? It’s not that I want to take home the trophy, but I hope in the retelling of yours that you can see the good things that came out of your experience. Perhaps you needed to report to a bad boss, because you were becoming stagnant and needed a kick in the butt to go look for another job. Maybe you were getting complacent in the quality of your work. Or just maybe you needed to get clear on your boundaries and find your voice.

Nothing excuses the behaviors of the bad boss, but bad bosses will be here until end times, and it’s only a matter of time before you work for one. Better to have the mindset that you can learn something from the unpleasant process by stepping through it.

*Some details and his name were changed to protect the identity of my bad boss.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs, and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at coach.sandra.dillon@gmail.com or by visiting her website at www.shinecrossings.com

Global Leadership Summit 2018: How to Get Comfortable with Difficult Conversations

joshua-ness--bEZ_OfWu3Y-unsplashSheila Heen said it well at Global Leadership Summit when she said, “Your leadership is defined by your ability to have difficult conversations.” How many times do you shy away from conflict, rationalize away what you want to say, or intentionally avoid the tough talk? You are not alone if you said anything but never. Most people struggle with difficult conversations, but the most respected leaders get comfortable in saying things that need to be said.

Heen describes the types of conversations that challenge us: (1) standing up for oneself, (2) disappointing someone, (3) working across cultures, (4) telling a boss they may be wrong, and (5) helping peers with their self-awareness. When we’re in a difficult conversation, three questions drive the direction of our story are:

  • Who’s right?
  • Who’s fault is it?
  • Why is this person acting this way?

Difficult conversations are challenging, because our identity is at stake, and we may not know what to do with our feelings. How can we approach difficult conversations? Heen suggests shelving those three questions and finding answers to:

  • What is this conversation about? Why do we see this so differently?
  • What did we each contribute to the situation?
  • How can I separate intentions from impact? What impact am I worried about?

As a leadership coach, I frequently work with clients on communication strategies and conflict resolution skills. I encourage people to understand the other person’s worldview and values that drive decision-making. People are not irrational; they make decisions based on what makes sense within their worldview.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership and business coaching. She works with individuals and businesses as well as designs and facilitates workshops to empower people. She has a passion to help people be the best versions of themselves. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at sandra.s.dillon@hotmail.com or by visiting her website at www.shinecrossings.com

How to Avoid Walking on Egg Shells in Your Relationship?

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Have you found yourself avoiding conversations you really want to have with your spouse for fear of starting an argument? Is timing for those difficult conversations not right? Or does the timing never seem right? Based on my conversations with others as a life coach, many couples shy away from initiating heart-felt and meaningful conversations because of the emotional repercussions.

Some dating, engaged, and married relationships have developed unhealthy behavior patterns, where one or both suffer from what I commonly refer to as “walking on egg shells” syndrome. Couples fail to realize the long-term damage that avoided conversations, verbal eruptions, and hurt feelings have on their relationship. Empowered with awareness, communication strategies, and practice, any couple can turn “walking on egg shells” into “walking on sunshine.”

This coach has walked on egg shells too!

Is it achievable that couples can have no filters and fully express themselves to their partner? Yes! Life coaches commonly have walked in their client’s footsteps. I’ve crushed a few egg shells in my life walk. With my first husband, my conversations were limited to daily tasks, childcare, and surface level talk to avoid arguments. With my second and last husband, I’m free to initiate meaningful and difficulty subjects at any time without concern. I’m not suggesting you need to change spouses to have healthier conversations, but both spouses need to commit to choose mindsets and communication approaches that honor themselves, spouse, and their marriage.

Conflict should be viewed as an invitation to create greater intimacy, where both can be vulnerable, open, and honest. How successful couples are in sustaining a happy and fun-filled marriage will be grounded in their willingness to deal with conflict as well as manage emotions and relationship expectations. How does a couple get from “walking on egg shells” to feeling respected, accepted, and loved? It starts with first understanding what you are really arguing about.

What was that argument really about?

“We seem to always fight about small, unimportant stuff!” and “Our issues never seem to get resolved!” are two common complaints expressed by couples. What’s really going on? For many couples the underlying dynamics are twofold.

First, most couples are often unaware that triggering events are masking unresolved issues that may reflect differences in views, beliefs, and expectations regarding money, sex, communication, religion, recreation, careers, parenting, and household chores. As an example, arguments over a clothing purchase may be unresolved conflict over how each spouse views the role of money. The wife may be a saver, who typically shops discount stores, because she favors financial security. She becomes anxious and argumentative with her status-driven husband who purchases a $100 designer tie. They have not discovered their personal drivers affecting their views of money stewardship or found a compromise position. The argument may be centered around an expensive tie purchase, but the fundamental issue is each spouse’s view around the use of money in their marriage.


Any couple can turn “walking on egg shells” into “walking on sunshine”


On a deeper level, hidden issues focus on needs such as acceptance, safety, love, respect and control.  In another example, despite his wife’s repeated request to put the toilet seat down after use, the husband continues to forget.  He does not understand why this is so important to his wife, especially since he has no issue with lifting it up.  His lack of consideration results in an emotionally charged response, “If you only cared enough, I wouldn’t have to remind you all the time to put the toilet seat down!” The event that triggers the argument is the position of the toilet seat; however, the underlying issue that may need to be discussed in how well the wife feels loved and respected by her husband.


Constructively address the underlying conflict of an argument


Second, many couples find themselves having the same arguments over and over, because they never resolve the relationship need. Some couples may understand the relationship issue acting at the heart of their arguments but lack the skills to resolve it. These couples fall into a behavior pattern where they avoid discussing the issue during times of peace, leaving it to get raised during a crisis event, where it becomes difficult to resolve. Markham, Stanley, and Blumberg (2010) found that most couples avoid being proactive in bringing up the issues when situations are calm, because they want to enjoy the good times. Hence, couples typically enter a cycle of petty, emotionally-charged arguments.

How do you start having those difficult conversations?

Some couples find themselves in an anxious pattern of avoiding conflict, which ultimately leads to “walking on eggshells.”  Markham et al. (2010) found that marriage health suffers when spouses do not feel relaxed around their partners.  How can you get back on track so you are having those important conversations, getting the issues on the table, and resolving conflict? Consider adopting these attitudes and communication strategies for your next conversation.

  • Schedule a relaxed time to talk about hidden issues in your relationship where desires, expectations, feelings, and needs can be shared, and you can feel truly known.
  • Self-reflect on what you need from your partner and marriage to feel loved and accepted. Be prepared to ask for what you want without the expectation of receiving it.
  • Be receptive and non-judgmental in hearing authentic messages from your partner. Your goal should be to learn, understand, and respect your spouse’s point of view, even if you do not agree with it.
  • Listen not only to your spouse’s words but the underlying feelings. Refrain from defending yourself and your position, but instead paraphrase back to your partner what you heard, because it affirms your spouse and confirms your understanding.
  • Own your feelings. Attacks start with “You make me mad when you leave your dirty socks on the floor, and I have to pick them up” and ownership starts with “I feel overwhelmed when I come from work and still see your dirty socks laying on the floor.”
  • Approach the conversation with the intention of glorifying the marriage and not winning your position. Husband and wife are teammates who sacrifice and support each other for the benefit of the marriage.
  • Adjust your expectations. Reflect on whether your expectations of your spouse are realistic given his/her personality, strengths, and weaknesses. What adjustments are you willing to make?  What are your negotiables and non-negotiables?
  • Do not bite off more than you can chew. Start small by setting a simple agenda for one topic you will talk through thoroughly. Take turns explaining how each of you have contributed to the problem, share your perceptions, facts, and feelings. Do not try to solve the issue until both parties have fully expressed themselves.
  • Brainstorm options on how to solve the problem. Compromise or in some instances concede to the desires of your partner. One wife I know said, “I let him win when it’s really important to him, and he lets me win when it’s important to me.” Although marriage conversations are not about creating winners and losers, her point illustrates the gracious giving that one spouse can give to the other.
  • Get specific with examples. If you share how you would feel more loved from your spouse, provide examples. Instead of saying, “I want more surprises to feel loved by you,” instead plant the seed, “I would feel more loved if you surprised me twice a year by sending me flowers at the office.”
  • Agree on specific actions. Take turns summarizing what you agreed to, and ideally, commit those actions to paper to avoid future disagreements caused by faulty memories and misinterpretations.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Adopting new communication behaviors does not come without challenges as you try to break old behaviors. Do not give up, because the health of your marriage is at stake. If needed, call a time out if you feel yourself getting too emotionally charged. A time out includes agreement on when you will reconvene, whether that be 15 minutes or 2 hours. A time out is not designed to avoid the conversation but to give space for emotions to calm, so both spouses can continue speaking and listening respectfully.

Give yourself and your spouse plenty of patience and grace

As you work through each of your hidden relationship issues, keep in mind this is a journey. The conversation may not ultimately resolve an issue, but conflict can be managed just by letting the issue be fully and respectfully aired. What’s important is for both spouses to feel truly heard and able to authentically express themselves, their worldviews and feelings within the safety of their marriage without the pressure to agree.  As two individuals, you may agree to disagree.

Embracing the right attitudes and approaches will help a husband and wife manage the inevitable conflict that every couple has without damaging the relationship.  Avoidance or emotionally charged conflict can harm the marriage, because hurtful words or avoidance can lead spouses to redirect their time and energy away from their partner toward other relationships with children, friends, extended family, careers and hobbies to get their needs met. Friendship is one of the strongest bonds for a happy marriage and pursuing that friendship is critical to a healthy marriage.

Marriage friendship is co-constructed in healthy conversation

Take your marriage to a higher level

If you and your spouse have worked through most of your conflict issues, you may now want to take your conversations to the next level by creating a marriage mission. Marriage commitment builds when a couple takes a long-term view of their relationship. A marriage mission statement can help define the purpose of your marriage and guide it by defining activities, behaviors, and goals that you live out as a couple.

Marriage mission statements can also help couples with decision-making, because decisions should align with the marriage purpose. If you decide to create a marriage mission statement, you can post it on the refrigerator as a daily reminder on why you both are in it together.

Reference

Markman, H., Stanley, S., & Blumberg, S. (2010). Fighting for your marriage. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


144-2 - CopyAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach, consultant, and mentor with an extensive background in business development, leadership, and ministry which provides her with the experience, relational skills, and proven processes to move individuals, couples, and leaders to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement.  She coaches in a variety of areas including life purpose and plans, business, finances, and premarital/marriage.