You know the serenity prayer--the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference--well, you need it now. There is a cost in either action--having the difficult dialogue with your boss or continuing to babysit. Which cost are you more willing to pay?
If you choose to hold a difficult discussion with your boss you should first consider:
- What is the best location for holding the discussion? (Help establish a positive tone by meeting in a comfortable, neutral location.)
- Does any one else need to be involved in the discussion and/or the implementation of a possible resolution?
- What are the possible consequences of admitting a mistake, losing emotional control or exposing a personal vulnerability?
- What level of confidentiality is reasonable to expect?
- Are any topics or solutions off limits?
- How can the topic be framed as a mutual problem?
Once you are ready for the difficult discussion, make sure that your attitude reflects the fact that you see the situation as an opportunity to work together.
Additionally, you will want to consider the following concepts and strategies. Use these questions as a guide:
- Where are we now?
- Were do we need to be?
- How will we get there?
- What do each of us need to do?
- How can I help you?
Be prepared for confrontation. Expect some level of venting and strong emotion. If you are prepared you will be able to keep your cool and model the attitudes and behaviors you want from her. Uncontrolled emotions can harm your image, no matter how much you are provoked.
Seek commonalities, such as a shared experience (feeling dismissed or overwhelmed) to define the problem.
- Listen and get the whole story. Active listening takes practice and an open, unbiased and uncluttered mind. The active listener is actively engaged in the communication process and pays strict attention to all speakers, asking appropriate, open-ended questions (how, what, when, where, who?) to probe for underlying interests and clarifying questions to verify understanding. The active listening skills of empathizing, paraphrasing, reframing, summarizing and picking-up on non-verbal clues are worth cultivating.
- Focus on solving the problem, not placing blame. Fault-finding is looking backward, resolution requires moving forward.
- Your tone of voice and body language must be in agreement with your words. She will believe your voice and other non-verbal messages as opposed to your words if there is inconsistency between them.
- Don't expect to find a flawless solution. A solution that can be revisited and readjusted may be a great first step.
- If you are stuck, suggest that each of you write down your perspectives and some recommended remedies. Then read each others writings.
- If you choose not to hold the difficult discussion, that's okay too. But, then you are going to have to work hard to make sure that resentment does not pollute your work and attitude.
Elinor Robin, "The Relationship Mediator," has more than 18 years of experience in mediation while working within the public and private sectors.