Talking to Bosses: Stick to the Script!

We have nothing in common with them as a class but sometimes we need to talk to our bosses. When we confront our bosses, for instance, we need to talk to them. A lot of bosses seem to have an instinct for turning the tables on us, and a lot of us workers have a habit of letting them do so. We spend so much time following their orders and they spend so much time giving orders that when we speak up it can be almost as disorienting for us as it is for them. That can make it easy for the boss to take back control in conversation.

For us to keep control in conversation with the boss we need to know what we want to have happen. We can't get our way if we don't know what our way is. If we don't have a plan then things can't go according to plan.

Let's say we're going to confront a boss about making someone stay late. Here are some ways the boss might respond: justify the decision ("we had more work, someone had to do it"), bring up some other issue ("well, you all are out of uniform"), try to guilt you in some way ("you do this after I got you that nice coffee maker for the break room?"), bring up the way you raised the issue ("you shouldn't bring this up in a group"), point you to someone else or somewhere else ("you should bring this up at our team meeting," "you really should go through Human Resources"), or question your right to bring it up at all ("this is a private matter between me and that person, it's none of the rest of your business.") There are other possible responses. The point is, you should think about the different ways your boss will respond, and know how you will reply in each case.

The goal in replying to a boss's response is to come back to your issue and your goal. Don't get side-tracked. Don't argue. At most, acknowledge what they said, ("we appreciate the new coffee maker", "we tried to bring this up with HR"), but don't let them turn the conversation to be about that. State your issue again, and what you want. "You make us work late and it causes problems for us. Will you stop that?" If they keep bringing up other things, and they probably will, say "This isn't about that, we're here to talk about you making us work late." Then re-state your issue and what you want.

The over all point is that our issue and our demand is not up for discussion. We are not going to be talked out of feeling like a problem at work is a pain in the neck and we are not going to be talked into having our demand disregarded. We are making clear that the issue is a problem and we are presenting our demand to fix it. If you have to, just say "we're not here to debate with you or to discuss other things. We want to know if you will stop extending people's hours or not. That's all we want to talk about. Will you stop?"

Stick to the script and you can turn the tables on the boss.