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How to Resolve Conflict with Your Boss

Conflict between employee and boss is common and can be part of any job at some point. No relationship is perfect and when people are overly stressed with budgets, deadlines and piles of tasks, even the best working relationships can be tested.  So how do you deal with ongoing conflict with your boss without jeopardizing your working relationship or your job? 

Don't worry, you're not alone.  Many people don't see eye-to-eye with their bosses, but that doesn't mean you can't have a good working relationship or be happy in your job. Sometimes it's our differences that help us learn from each other. While it’s important to take responsibility for our own roles in a conflict with a supervisor, don’t fret that you have a less than idyllic relationship. Instead, focus your energy on finding ways to make it better.

Try to understand what makes your boss tick. For good or bad, we all have a unique working style complete with hot buttons and things that make us happy. Mending a relationship with your boss can be as simple as taking the time to observe and figure out what makes her happy professionally, and what sets her off. Being tuned in and insightful about your boss’s working style can help you avoid some of the behaviors that make your boss grumpy, and in turn helps strengthen the relationship.

Going to HR is not the best, first step. Unless there are issues of bullying, discrimination or other situations that violate office policy, going to HR should be more like your last step. In any relationship, it’s crucial to have solid communication and work through conflict and disagreements together. If your first attempt at solving problems with your boss is going behind his back, you have a good chance of putting him on the defensive and may end up creating more conflict. Instead, request a private meeting to discuss some issues that are on your mind. Approach the conversation in a way that is diplomatic, non-aggressive and non-accusatory. Make sure you position the conversation as being about you – take fair responsibility for the challenges in your relationship and seek your boss’s opinion and ideas for how to repair it. Remember that your boss is the boss; remain respectful throughout the process of working through issues together. 

Talking to others can make things worse. If you find yourself talking about the issues with your boss with anyone in the office who will listen, you are not helping improve the relationship and you could be hurting your reputation.  You can come across as bitter, angry and untrustworthy – and even worse, someone could tell your boss what you've been saying. If you need to vent, talk to a confidant outside of the workplace. Better yet, focus your energy on improving the situation instead of obsessing about how bad things are.

Your boss doesn’t like conflict either. Unless he is truly evil or thrives on negative energy, it’s more than likely your boss is also troubled by the conflict and frustration that exists between the two of you. Showing him you can be accountable, mature, and responsible for your own actions will go a long way, and your boss will not only admire what you are saying and how you say it, but he will also feel relief that you are working together in a more positive way.

Explain that your frustration is starting to seep into your work life and your conflicts are starting to affect your work and your attitude. Make it clear that you want to find a way to have better communication and a more cohesive relationship. Let your boss know that you understand he or she has your best interests at heart and that you want to find common ground that will make things better for you both.

If your attempts fail, consider a third party. If after working to improve the relationship, you discover your boss is not open to finding a way to mend fences, then it’s time to assess your options and next steps.  One option is to talk to HR about the situation. Present the conflict in a calm and concise way, and explain the steps you took to improve the relationship. Ask your HR representative if he can get involved; sometimes a third party’s perspective and influence can be just what’s needed.  

While conflict with a supervisor is unpleasant, it is not unusual. By taking the time to nurture and repair the relationship while working to understand what makes your boss tick, you can improve and enhance your quality of life in the workplace.

Photo Credit: Buzzle