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Battling bosses

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

Q. I report to two bosses in two separate departments, each of whom controls 50 percent of my salary. While they both treat me fairly, they don’t get along at all. Unfortunately, they have to collaborate a lot. But they wind up constantly flinging insults and trying to pit me against each other. I’m very uncomfortable being put in this position. What’s worse, their animosity hurts our results and our ability to work effectively as a team. I’ve tried talking to them privately, but that hasn’t worked. I’ve also refused to take sides, but I speak up and defend one of them when the other makes a particularly vicious, unfair remark. That doesn’t really solve anything, though. What next?

A. First, don’t try too hard to prod, nag or scold them into treating each other better. In your well-intentioned effort to make peace, you can exacerbate tensions if you put pressure on them or embarrass them. And given that you report to them, you don’t want to come across as too bossy or condescending. But that doesn’t mean you should meekly allow a bad situation to worsen. Find ways to get them both in a room together, focusing on a specific work project. Look for opportunities to complement them and express how much you learn from them. Praise them equally. By injecting a genuine positive spirit into the discussion, you can chip away at their resistance and help them acknowledge each other’s good points. Also go over their head (just this once!) and suggest to their boss that the company hire a consultant to provide team-building assistance (if no one’s above your two bosses, suggest to them that a consultant come aboardto foster more harmony among the entire staffùthis should lower their defensiveness). Finally, consider a direct appeal to the greater good of the team. Meet with each of them privately and say, “I know you have strong feelings about [name of other manager]. What would it take for you to shove aside those feelings to help us all operate on a higher level?” Maintain a pleasant, businesslike tone; avoid lecturing them by keeping the focus on what steps they’d be willing to take to work together more effectively.

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