Learning to Handle
QUESTION: I love my job but I'm having
difficulty getting along with my boss. Our personalities clash and
we always seem to be getting in petty disagreements. This underlying
tension makes it harder and harder to get up and go to work each day.
Can you offer some ways for us to begin easing the conflict?
ANSWER: The struggles you are experiencing
with your boss may be exacerbated by differences in personality styles.
Since the disagreements you describe occur around "petty" incidents,
it is more likely that your greater difficulty lies in dealing with
authority. Clearly, since your boss is in the position of authority,
you will not win a battle for power. No wonder you are feeling defeated.
Consider two approaches to solving this problem and
reducing tension between you.
Consider what the appropriate
boundaries should be between the two of you. Is your boss crossing
these boundaries or are you crossing your boss' boundaries?
For example: When your boss delegates responsibility, does he or
she stop there, giving feedback but respecting your autonomy to
fulfill your job responsibilities? Or does your boss micro-manage
each step of your project?
If you object to any feedback or to accepting assignments (within
your job description) you may be over reacting to authority. This
can occur because you are either not used to being supervised, or
your experience of authority figures in the past was disappointing.
An unsatisfying relationship with previous authority figures (parents,
teachers, or previous supervisors) can cause you to mistrust or
resist guidance in general. Reflect on whether your boss' personality
triggers any negative associations to previous authority figures
in your life. If so, you could be negatively charging the interactions
between the two of you. Separate these associations from the present
relationship with your boss and count to ten before reacting to
If your boss is micro-managing your every step, he or she is crossing
your boundaries and you will have to address it. Ask to have a meeting
to talk about your work responsibilities. Show appropriate respect
for your boss' position and positive qualities. Let your superior
know you value feedback, but that you are getting so much input
that it is disruptive to your productivity. Establish appropriate
times for feedback and discussion.
Consider whether you are giving
messages of disrespect to your boss in any way. If you are struggling
with authority issues, it may be difficult to let small conflicts
go. You may be expressing your disrespect by "picking fights" about
unimportant things, such as where the water cooler should be placed
or whether to use colored paper clips. Choose your battles. It is
in your best interest to allow this person to feel in control. Small
items do not matter. Big ones do. Clarify the differences for yourself.
If you feel the need is justified, do speak up. But do so in a respectful
If you have come to terms with the fact of your boss' authority
over you and clarified boundaries, mutual respect can be established.
Some peace offering may be beneficial. Consider your boss' positive
qualities and be willing to comment on them as the opportunity presents
itself. Thank him or her for a good idea or suggestion, even if
given to someone else. All of us respond to genuine appreciation.
Balancing criticisms with appreciation may help to deflate the tension
Assuming your boss' comments are not motivated by
a desire to undermine your job performance, there should be some improvement
in your situation following these suggestions. If difficulties persist,
or further help is needed to establish a healthier work environment
do not hesitate to consider other options. A consult with a supervisor
may provide you with a more objective viewpoint.
Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.
Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.
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