Work for a Jerk? Tips for Confronting Your Boss That Could Save Your Career

PROVO, Utah, Oct. 6 /PRNewswire/ — When you think of the reasons that would cause someone to quit his or her job, you probably expect bad work assignments, unacceptable hours or low pay to rank high on the list. According to a VitalSmarts survey, these are actually the least common concerns. More than 50% of the employees surveyed said a disagreeable boss was their number one reason to pack up and leave.

In fact, two out of every three people who are bugged by their boss are in the process of looking for other options, according to VitalSmarts, a national corporate training company. But the problem is not primarily the disagreeable boss, says Joseph Grenny, president of VitalSmarts and co-author of the national bestseller, “Crucial Confrontations”. The problem is people’s unwillingness to candidly share concerns about their boss-employee relationship, he says.

“Only one in five people have even attempted to fully lay out their concerns with the boss,” says Grenny, a New York Times bestselling author. “Our previous research shows they just don’t know how. Almost two-thirds will quit without ever really speaking their mind. It turns out that when it matters most, most of us do our worst at communicating our concerns. And the worst is saying nothing.”

In contrast, those surveyed who do speak up and who are skilled at holding crucial confrontations with their bosses were more satisfied with their jobs and less likely to take another job. They were also less likely to badmouth the boss to others or to work around the boss’s weaknesses.

Grenny offers a few simple tips for successfully confronting a disagreeable boss.

  • Work on you first, the boss second. Get your emotions in check by looking for how you may be adding to the problem. It isn’t that the boss doesn’t have faults; it’s that most people tend to exaggerate their boss’s problems and ignore how they may be contributing.
  • Hold the right conversation. Most people think they are giving their boss feedback but fail to get to the real issue that concerns them. For example, if your fundamental concern is that your boss doesn’t respect you or that you don’t trust your boss – you have to find a way to discuss that issue without skirting around it.
  • Start with safety. It can be tough to tell your boss you don’t trust him or her. But it is completely possible to do so without rupturing the relationship if you can help your boss feel safe. People feel psychologically safe when they know you care about their interests and respect them. Start with: “I have a concern I’d like to discuss. It’s important to me, but it’s also something I think will help me work more effectively. May I discuss it with you?”
  • Facts first. Don’t start with your harsh judgments or vague conclusions. For example, “I don’t trust you” or “You’re a control freak.” Instead, start with the facts. Strip out any judgmental or provocative language and be specific. For example, “After you told me you brought me up for a promotion in the HR meeting, two people at that meeting e-mailed me and asked me why I wasn’t recommended by you.”

“Crucial Confrontations” (McGraw-Hill, $16.95) is available at or at booksellers nationwide. See

About VitalSmarts: Innovators in best practice corporate training products and consulting research, the founders of VitalSmarts have co-authored two New York Times bestsellers: Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations. VitalSmarts has helped thousands of organizations, including more than 300 of the Fortune 500, realize quick, hard-hitting results through its award- winning training programs using a method that no other training company yet offers. VitalSmarts currently has two training initiatives: Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations.

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