September 8, 2017
Managing Your Boss's Negativity
Q: My manager is so negative and defensive that I am afraid if I shared, “I did what you asked me to do,” I would create more defensiveness that would result in increased conflict. What can I do to reduce this person’s negative energy and create a viable solution that will improve results?
A: Unfortunately, many individuals are often negative or always seem to be defensive; every situation is always the “worst” it can possibly be. We all know people like this. We also know that we don’t like being around them because of the effect they have. Sometimes when these individuals walk into a room, you can hear a giant sucking sound as all the positive energy is pulled out of the room. The conversation then seems to disintegrate from there.
Knowing that this is a difficult situation, taking the initiative to manage the conversation will insure a more satisfactory outcome. Here are some suggestions:
Be positive. Don’t allow the person’s negative energy to pull you down. A person’s negativity or defensiveness says more about them than it does about you. Realize that some people live in the “protective-reactive” part of their brain. Consequently, they are always taking what is said or done in the worst possible way. It’s how they see the world as unfortunate as that may be.
Try to think or to find a positive about them that you hold in your consciousness. Because we all exude energy that others pickup on, you can project a positive energy that will lift the conversation.
Use the DialogueWORKS framework to initiate, discover, connect and build to prepare and hold the conversation.
Initiate by offering to create a solution. You may acknowledge the situation by sharing the facts and your interpretation of the facts. It might sound like this:
“I recognize that we overran the budget in completing this project (data). I’m
wondering if there are some steps we need to take that will improve our
performance in the future (interpretation).”
Notice that the interpretation in the last sentence points to creating improved results. A positive approach far outweighs meeting an individual’s defensiveness with your own resistance and defensiveness.
If they try to blame you for the outcome, stay positive and continue to move the conversation to improving your processes and improving results. Refuse to get pulled into playing the “blame game.”
Discover by asking questions. In the Discovery phase of the conversation, ask a number of questions that will help you and them gain increased clarity about the situation. Consider any of the following:
“Could you help me understand the challenges we are facing?”
“What concerns do you have?”
“What would you have preferred we do to keep the project budget in line with
“What would you like me to do next time when I know that we are running into
Notice that these questions not only provide you with additional information, but they also allow your manager to clarify their thinking. The reason this is important is because sometimes we believe we’re being clear, and then we find out too late that we were misinterpreted.
Connect with their purpose. Asking a number of questions should allow you to connect your performance to their original intent and to identify a new or different need. Once you believe you have understood, summarize your thinking and ask them to connect on your understanding. It might sound like this:
“So you wanted… and I wanted… Is that correct?”
Build a solution. Once you have established an understanding of the challenges, you are ready to create a solution. Ask for your manager’s ideas and offer your own ideas. Together, agree upon a process that will improve the outcome next time around. Your focus should be to improve the process.
Using this conversation recipe may seem counterintuitive. After all, when we are attacked or blamed, our natural response is to “attack back.” Using the dialogue framework allows you to avoid the blame game and move to a more effective resolution of the problem.
Also, notice that nowhere in this exchange are you acknowledging any type of nonperformance on your part. You are simply being positive and moving the conversation toward improvement. Such improvement will increase your capability to perform while making your manager a star with his or her manager and increasing the benefits to your company.
Defensiveness does not create an effective solution. Take the initiative to create a positive outcome and you will not be disappointed.