You're getting that feeling in the pit of your stomach again. You wince, you shake your head. You want to walk out and quit your job. On the spot. Your manager just said something inappropriate again. Somehow you just know that he (or she) should have more finesse or smarts — after all, they’re the boss. Shouldn't they know better?
Throughout our careers, we have a chance to have all kinds of bosses: the good, the bad, and the ugly. We're not talking about the truly ugly here — that's for your friendly local employment lawyer to handle. We're talking about your average run-of-the-mill faux pas-ing boss.
1. She overshares.
2. She asks you inappropriate details about your personal life.
3. She plays favorites.
4. She lies.
5. She overreacts to small issues.
6. She never accepts blame for her mistakes.
7. She makes jokes that are in poor taste.
If the inappropriateness is a couple of awkward jokes now and then, okay. As long as it isn't 5th-grade bathroom humor or the kind of stuff that shows a lack of respect or real harassment. But sometimes what we give attention to, grows, so pick your battles if you like your job. You'll get a good barometer reading by checking in with your body. A physical response means Mr. or Ms. Boss may have crossed a line. If you don't have a visceral reaction or a spontaneous recoil, it may be something you can ignore. Once.
Let's say the boss uses a well-known politically incorrect word to describe someone. It may behoove you to remind them gently that what they are saying can be used against them in a court of law. But say it with a grain of sugar, as in, "You know, that word was thrown out of Webster's Dictionary 25 years ago. Today we say XYZ.” Their reaction will tell you if they’re trainable, which is good information for future career planning. If you choose education over filing a lawsuit, make sure your delivery isn't too threatening. Yet.
Now let's say it's worse than we thought and they are quickly reaching your personal tipping point of appropriateness. It's time for the HARD CONVERSATION. This is when you draw your line in the sand about what you will and will not allow. Make sure you choose the right time and place and make sure you won't be interrupted. Send an appointment invite to their calendar to mark the occasion — it's important that you show your boss the urgency of the situation. Lay it down respectfully but firmly. Let them know unconditionally what you will and will not tolerate. Be crystal clear.
You'll know when it's time to document — that pit in your stomach will grow and send tingles up your spine. Keep a notebook handy and start documenting with dates, exact times, and infraction details. Include any warnings you've given too, and their dates. You may need this if your boss has retaliation on their agenda and gives you a bad review for speaking up.
Whether human resource departments can help is debatable. Your best bet is to have plenty of support from family and friends. Take a poll to see if any of your peeps have gone through something similar. You'll need their backing to instill confidence, especially before you meet with the boss (see above).
Hopefully, after you've applied these tips in order, your boss will pay more attention to his or her behavior and your work environment will improve as a result. However, if taking these steps doesn't lead to a resolution, it may be time to think about whether this is a work environment—or person—you can tolerate. Sometimes, you just have to move on to a better job. And a better boss.
Donna is a freelance writer with a particular interest in the issues, struggles, loves, and dreams of women. She writes all about it on her blog, alovelyinconsequence.blogspot.com.
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