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Editorial
How I Confronted My Defensive Boss — Without Getting Fired
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You’re in a meeting, someone proposes an idea, and everyone jumps on board. Suddenly you’ve got a project to complete. But you’re thinking, “Is this for real? This will never work. How can I be the only one who sees that this is an awful idea?”

Then you doubt yourself: “Wait, everyone else is going with it, so I must be wrong.” Or, “I’m the most junior person in the room, so I can’t speak up even though I think this is a bad idea.” Or, “If I speak up, I’ll be seen as a naysayer or not a team player. My boss hates people who complain. I’ll get fired.”

I’ll never forget my first experience with the result of “groupthink” product, one that resulted from everyone getting on board with a bad idea. And I was the one who had to implement it.  

Groupthink projects happen when people want to impress their boss and are afraid to say no or speak up when they hear a bad idea. It happens when the desire to fit in and get along is the strongest driver in the room and often produces a dysfunctional product. Instead of looking at the pros and cons, talking through the conflict to get a better result, team members stop listening to dissenters in the room.

I wasn’t in the room when the product was produced, but I was given this funky, impossible product to implement. It felt impossible, but I gave it a valiant effort just to be sure that it wasn’t me just being a naysayer.  

Here’s how I used my negotiation skills to confront my boss without getting fired.

What you think:

I had to be courageous to speak up against the groupthink project. How do you get that courage? Plan for what you’re going to say and what might happen in response. 

What you say: 

Planning is the most important part of any conversation that requires you to speak up. Spend time preparing for what you’re going to say and what you think the other person is going to say in response…and what you’ll say in response to what they say!

Be specific.

  1. What's wrong? Stick to one thing. Don’t bring up anything from the past. Stick to the point and only that one point, no matter how upset you are.
  2. What do you think the other person will say? The best way to avoid getting emotional is to be prepared for any response.
  3. How could it be fixed? If you have any ideas about what to do differently to fix or change the situation, come prepared to share.
  4. What do you want to do about it? It’s okay to say, “I like to come in with some ideas for how to fix this, but I’m really not sure what to do. I’d like to talk through this and see if we can come up with some ideas together.”  

What you do: 

Document the outcomes in an email to be sure you’re on the same page, that you understand what will happen next, even if the next step is to meet again to keep discussing the situation.    

Summarize the points where you agreed and the points you still need to resolve. Sounds like this, “Thank you for talking with me today. Here are the areas I think we agreed and the areas we still need to resolve. Would you please respond and confirm that I got it right, add anything you see as differences, and agree to our next steps? Then we can set up another meeting to keep the dialogue moving forward.” 

The bottom line

I screwed up my courage and talked to my boss about the groupthink project. Here’s what I said: “I’ve tried to teach the sales people how to use this product, but it has these [three problems]. I have an idea about how to fix it that I’d like to share with you. I’d like to work with [this person] to get those changes made. Can I get your okay to do that?”

He got defensive. I stuck to the main point and did not respond to his emotion because I had prepared for it. By staying calm and sticking to my point, I got his permission to make the changes. And I did not get fired.

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Melissa Hereford is a negotiation expert who will teach you to respond clearly, calmly, and effectively so you can get more of what you want, all while building stronger relationships. Get your free negotiation script at http://MelissaHereford.com

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