Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Crucial Conversations for Accountability

Weighing Your Options

Dear Crucial Skills,

Ten of us are struggling with how to deal with the bad behavior of our boss. Most of us are contemplating leaving this really good company because of it. Two others have quit already because of the bad and even abusive behavior and told the HR director and CEO. Nothing has changed.

What Next?

Dear What Next,

As I write this, the stock markets across the planet are on a roller coaster ride that’s bringing little joy to anyone. With that kind of insecurity as a backdrop, your question becomes especially sensitive. Even in the best of times, many people are reluctant to address concerns with their boss because they think it might put their jobs or their future opportunities at risk.

I would love to comfort you with our research that suggests if you practice crucial confrontations skills well, the odds of you being hurt by your attempt are quite low. However, your situation is a bit different. Your colleagues have already escalated this to HR and the CEO. You didn’t mention that you have spoken to your boss directly—but for the sake of my response I’ll assume you have already done this (if you haven’t, you need to step up to this crucial confrontation first thing). And still, after all these attempts, you’ve seen no change. What next?

You’re obviously in a very tough situation and your options are limited. But you do have options. Let me list them. You are in the best position to decide based on your perception of risk and your personal values which of these is the wisest choice for you. So, I’ll simply lay them out and hope considering them will assist you in making your decision.

1) Commit and cope. You could choose to accept the security of your current situation and cope with the abusive relationship. If you do so, I urge you to have the maturity to acknowledge that you are making this choice and not to blame your boss for behaving in the future the way he has in the past. You know what you’re signing up for—take it or leave it.

2) Give it up and quit. Second, you could decide that even an uncertain job market is more desirable than the certainly of a rotten work environment. Of course, it would be best to look around and solidify options as much as you can before making the leap—but if you’ve tried your best and can’t influence change where you are, change your address.

3) Escalate further and hope for the best. If there are ten of you who are dissatisfied, you have significant power to further escalate the behavior problems—provided you stick together. Though this may seem like unusual advice, I would encourage you to confront your boss as a group. Do it in as safe and respectful a way as you can (re-read Crucial Confrontations before acting). Limit your complaints to the one or two most salient ones and then detail what behavior you would like to have instead. Express your openness to changing yourselves if there are things you and your colleagues are doing that provoke your boss’s bad behavior. But let your boss know that “no change” is unacceptable.

Before holding this discussion, share your intention with HR and the CEO. Ask them for their support. Ask them if you can report the outcome following the meeting. If they refuse to support your effort, then you must go back to options 1 or 2 above. If HR and the CEO will not support you, then either you are deluding yourself about the problem, or you are in an organization that is determined to enable your boss’s bad behavior. It’s time to make a choice.

4) Prop the door open then escalate. Finally, you can combine #3 with a careful retreat plan. Shop around. Solidify some exit options. Be sure the back door is propped open and then take action to influence change.

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution. However, failing to clarify what you really want and not maturely choosing your best course of action will only add the misery of powerlessness to the dissatisfaction of abuse. Powerlessness is frequently as much fiction as reality. You do have options—and I urge you to exercise them to your greatest benefit.

I wish you the best and would be pleased to hear what you decide and how things turn out.


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