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Conflict with boss can be settled positively. Here's how

There are many things you need to take care of while having a difficult conversation with a superior. Here are ten ways how to deal with conflict.

Apr 15, 2019, 06.30 AM IST
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A good agreement is when both you and your boss gain and your company benefits.
By Devashish Chakravarty

One of the most stressful situations at work involves a conflict with your boss. Like with any difference of opinion, the satisfactory solution lies in clear communication. When disagreeing with a supervisor, the thought of a difficult conversation shoots up stress levels, impacts your performance and gives you sleepless nights. The way out is to have that challenging conversation quickly. Here’s how.

1. Preparation time
Never walk into the conversation until you are ready. If your boss asks you to speak, seek time to prepare. Know the outcome you want, why you want it and how it will help resolve the matter. A logical framework works better than the emotional approach, which can quickly deteriorate into a blame game. Pick your battles wisely and drop the ones not critical to your peace of mind.

2. Bring evidence
Are you going to discuss an unfair criticism you received or the lack of support to execute tasks? Your goal is to achieve a satisfactory agreement between you and your manager. This is possible only if the agreement is grounded in facts and not assumptions. Marshall all evidence related to the subject including all internal reports, emails, company policies and discussions from the past. Use the facts to construct the flow of your argument.

3. Ice it down
Choose an appropriate positive time for the talk. It should be after tempers have cooled. Though it may feel satisfying to barge into your manager’s office and shout him down, it may cost you your job or credibility. A calmer thought process and discussion will also throw up numerous new options that may lead to a happy solution.

4. Let him speak
When the discussion starts, let your manager speak first. Know that your manager may be agitated too. By letting him present first, he calms down faster and gives you a better hearing. Additionally, your boss has access to more data and may be you have missed out on key information that can change the issue completely. Listening first helps you with new facts and a better understanding.

5. Get to common ground
Early into the discussion, seek agreement on accepted facts or assumptions. Finding common ground is the best starting point to move forward constructively. Begin by agreeing that you both seek to achieve a great outcome for the client and then you can discuss how lack of resources is preventing you from delivering that outcome. As you progress through the discussion, keep adding to the common agreement in small bites and soon the disagreement becomes manageable and a solution becomes workable.

6. Focus on problem not person
A blame game benefits no one. Difficult conversations break down when either party perceives it to be a personal attack. Articulate arguments in a manner that discusses the problem and excludes intentions or people. Instead of saying, “You are unfair and that is evident from your criticism”, say how outcomes delivered by you were better than standards and may be there was a misunderstanding in the perception of results.

7. Find triple impact solutions
A good agreement is when both you and your boss gain and your company benefits. For you, your problem reaches a reasonable resolution and you receive a logical response on your inputs. Likewise, your manager preferably does not lose face in case he was in thewrong. At the same time, the outcome should be in line with company policy and business interests. Until you close the discussion, continue doing great work so that your professional credibility remains intact.

8. Create multi-channel options
Every discussion with your manager is not likely to end in a positive outcome. In case a strong disagreement leaves you disadvantaged, approach alternate channels to solve the problem. If it is inadequate budget to achieve an outcome, figure out if the finance team or the client has the clout to weigh in. If it is acknowledgement for an achievement, does HR have a say? Tap these channels in case of an unfavourable outcome.

9. Know escalation options
If all channels fail and yet a positive outcome is critical, know the reporting framework. You may need to escalate to the finance head or your boss’s reporting manager in case the junior person does not have the wherewithal to approve your requirement or is unable/unwilling to analyse the facts rationally. Escalate after your have officially presented facts and discussions were unproductive. Include discussion points in the escalation to help the superior arrive at a good decision.

10. Walk away option
Is the disagreement serious enough to harm your career? You have the choice to walk away. If you foresee a situation where the discussion may leave you with an unsatisfactory solution, either prepare your finances and back-up plans in advance or stick around long enough to generate alternate options.

1. Emotion check

When the shoe is on the other foot and you are the boss in the relationship, fi rst do an emotion check on yourself and your team member. If either of you is taking the matter personally then defuse that fi rst before it gets out of hand and refl ects poorly on your leadership.

2. Tip of the iceberg
Know that the power equation is heavily skewed in your favour. This means that your colleague is probably ignoring several other smaller issues to raise the current one. This is only the tip of the iceberg that could sink your ship. To solve the complete problem, relinquish control of the discussion and encourage a broader conversation.

3. Step back options
Despite best intentions, there will be instances where your decision or understanding will be poor. Give yourself space to reverse in case you discover that you were in the wrong. Seek permission to give feedback before criticising. Do not overstep professional boundaries in the argument, else your career will take a hit.

4. Fact-first approach
Before and during the discussion, examine your assumptions and step away from them. Consider the facts on merit and understand how they can be interpreted differently by either of you. When you can reexamine the situation independent of your emotions or prior understanding, you may solve the problem faster.

5. Compassion wins
Consider that your growth as a leader is the biggest favour you can do for your career. Use this discussion to exercise and grow your compassion muscle. After you have arrived at a reasonable solution, consider how you can improve it further by adding a dose of empathy and compassion to leave your colleague empowered and engaged.

(The writer is founder and CEO at and
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of
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