How to Fight with Your Boss Without Losing Your Job

No matter how great things are going at work, there may come a time when you and your boss disagree and tempers start to flare. How you handle the situation could greatly impact your future with your employer or even your long-term career prospects. While you may want to wrap your hands around your boss’s throat and squeeze really, really hard, that’s not the recommended course of action. If you’re angry with your boss, remember to use your words (carefully). When you and your boss are engaged in a heated discussion, tread cautiously. Here’s how to constructively fight with your boss.

Don’t turn into the hulk

The Hulk | Marvel

The Hulk | Marvel

Now is not the time to turn over chairs and throw desk ornaments across the room. If there was ever a time to stay cool, calm, and collected, it’s right now. Keep your temper in check and try your best to calmly discuss things. A shouting match will only escalate the argument. And if things get really out of hand, you run the risk of not only getting written up for being disruptive but also being escorted off the premises by the building’s security staff — meaning you can probably say buh-bye to your job at that point.

The key here is not to suppress your anger, but work through the anger. Donald Gibson, coauthor of Managing Anger in the Workplace, said that while it is OK to express anger, it is best to do so in a respectful way. “The key to managing anger is creating conditions in which anger can be expressed appropriately and productively … anger can be a source of important data that should be recognized, processed, and acted upon. When effectively managed, anger can produce many positive results,” said Gibson in his book.

Watch your mouth

Man covering mouth

Man covering mouth | iStock.com/Pinkypills

In your head, you might be calling your boss every nasty name you can think of, but don’t verbalize your thoughts. Name-calling is a no-no. Also be careful not to start screaming; you won’t get your point across by raising your voice. While you may want to defend yourself and argue your case, it’s important to stay clear-headed. Leadership expert Annie McKee said it’s tempting to give into the urge to aggressively defend your case during a fight with someone more powerful, but it’s important to remember who you’re communicating with and the impact your actions could have on your career.

“It’s tiresome, really, but we can’t help ourselves. It feels like a fight to the death. That’s because fighting with a powerful person — like a boss — sparks a deep, primal response: fear. After all, these people hold our lives in their hands — the keys to our futures, not to mention our daily bread,” said McKee in her Harvard Business Review column.

Don’t play the blame game

When things start to get heated, resist the urge to blame. This will make your boss more defensive and might cause him to shut down your discussion prematurely. You can steer clear of appearing to blame by starting your sentences with “I” instead of “you.” Using “you” statements will make your boss feel like he’s being attacked, and he’ll just fight back even harder.

Document the fight

Man taking notes

Man taking notes | iStock.com

Become an expert note-taker. Your ability to clearly document what happened between you and your supervisor could save your job if human resources gets involved (and they probably will). Depending on what you and your supervisor were arguing about, it will be important to document exactly what took place. Take a moment to write down the issue you were discussing and what each of you said. If your boss became physically or verbally abusive, document that as well.

Have an exit strategy ready

Man packing a box and leaving a job.

Man leaving job | iStock.com

No matter how well you follow all of the “rules” for fighting fairly, you could still get fired. Some supervisors don’t like to be challenged, so if you happen to get under their skin, you could be sent home packing. It’s unfair, but it’s a reality you’ll need to be prepared for, said McKee in her column.

Conflict with one’s boss usually backfires. That’s because our many cultures place huge value in the official hierarchy: The higher you are, the more ‘right’ you are assumed to be —especially by people even higher up. It is a self-perpetuating system that respects and rewards people by virtue of their level in the organization, not their behavior. This means that you can lose a battle with your boss — in his eyes and others’ — even before you start. So, if you must fight, be sure you have a strategy to protect yourself from the fallout.

If you notice that emotions are still running high and your boss is acting cold toward you in the days and weeks after your argument, it might be time to look for another job — like today. Chances are, when it comes down to the two of you, upper management is more likely to take your boss’s side. So dust off that resume, talk to your network, and make your job hunt a priority.

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