Question: “I have worked for my manager ‘Debra’ for 15 years. I never complain about my job or bring up problems. I just do whatever she asks me to do. One of my co-workers frequently confronts Debra about issues and suggests making changes. Debra listens to whatever she has to say and seems to favor her over me. This is completely unfair. I never say a word about anything, yet I get the short end of the stick. At times, I get so frustrated that I feel like walking out the door, but I really don’t want to start over somewhere else. I would like to discuss this situation with my manager, but I’m afraid of making her mad. How should I approach her?” —Silently Fuming
Answer: Your manager apparently prefers assertiveness to quiet compliance. So the fact that you “never say a word” is actually the source of your problem. Since you haven’t raised any issues, Debra probably assumes that you are perfectly happy. Therefore, the worst thing you can do is suddenly dump 15 years of resentment on her.
Because your anger has been building for so long, you need to defuse these emotions before talking with your boss. Consider asking a close friend to simply listen while you vent all your feelings about the situation. Then you can make plans for a calm and rational conversation.
First, identify the business reason for this discussion. Whining about unfairness and favoritism will get you nowhere, so you must decide what you want. More communication with your boss? More input into decisions? Changes in your work?
After you define the goal, prepare your opening statement. For example: “I know that I tend to be quiet, and I don’t like to rock the boat. But lately, I’ve started thinking that perhaps I should speak up more often. I have some suggestions, if you would like to hear them.”
In the future, make it a habit to routinely share concerns and ideas with your manager. If you provide constructive comments, not complaints, she will come to regard you as highly as she does your coworker.
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