Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

The Boss is a Bully

Joseph Grenny

Joseph Grenny is coauthor of four bestselling books, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.


Crucial Conversations

QDear Crucial Skills,

My boss is out of control. He fabricates facts to support his personal agenda. He applies or ignores corporate policies at his whim. He makes blatant displays of favoritism–punishing some employees severely while overlooking others who do the exact same thing. He accuses employees falsely, and then creates evidence if needed to support his claims.

He has taken the Crucial Conversations class and uses it as a means of attack. He starts with “This is a crucial conversation,” and then follows with a litany of insults and accusations, omitting any attempt to make things feel safe.

Our institution has no sanctioned course of action where a supervisor can present a complaint. Several have gone to his superior and gotten nowhere. How can we use Crucial Conversations skills to better remedy a situation where honesty and truth are considered a secondary priority?


Nearly Hopeless

A Dear Nearly Hopeless,

Sounds like the crucial conversation you need to have is with yourself. The best service you could offer to yourself is to find a different job. And the best service you could offer to your organization is to hold a very candid exit interview once you’ve lined up the next job. Unfortunately, weakness at crucial conversations is not confined to direct reports. Bosses are just as inclined to avoid them at all costs.

Now, I’m making two important assumptions–but provided my assumptions are correct, the primary problem here is that your boss’s superior is AWOL from his or her job. When an employee takes the enormous risk of giving skip-level feedback (i.e., going over her boss’s head to share concerns about her boss), the manager has a special obligation to protect the employee and to respond vigorously to the concerns. Clearly that has failed here. Now, in fairness, I need to share the big assumptions I’m making. I’m assuming that:

1. You and others have made a skillful attempt to give your boss feedback about his chronic untrustworthiness.

2. You and others have been skillful in how you communicated your concerns to your boss’s boss.

If you’ve done reasonably well at both of these, then you have–in my opinion–discharged your conscience marvelously and are left only with the obligation to move yourself to a healthy work situation. I know that can be a tough decision to implement, but it should be a fairly easy one to make. As long as you stay where you are you are enabling your boss’s bad behavior by robbing him of the natural consequences of it. The natural consequence of bad leadership is the loss of good talent. But even more important, you are falling short of your obligation to place yourself in environments where you can flourish and serve best.

I wish you the best in both creating better circumstances and positively influencing your current boss through the change.

Best regards,


You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

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