Q: I’ve got a problem with my boss. He’s smart, dynamic and makes the office fun, and in most ways I really enjoy working with him. But quite regularly, in a jokey way, if he wants to make a point, he feels it’s alright to slap me on the arm or the back with a newspaper or a book. This is now really starting to get on my nerves but I don’t know how to broach the subject without jeopardising our relationship.”
Have you tried moaning softly when he hits you and murmuring “I love it when you do that”? I’m confident that would change his behaviour pretty fast – though of course if it didn’t, you’d have a whole new set of problems on your hands.
Perhaps you could lay claim to a sudden passion for American football and go to work dressed like Joe Montana. At least you wouldn’t bruise, though you may get some odd sideways glances in the lift.
I suspect you already know that, if you don’t like being hit by your boss, the only solution is to tell him you don’t like being hit and ask him to stop.
The dilemma is in the how, particularly as maintaining the relationship is a primary consideration for you.
The key to this kind of conversation lies in understanding how the other person likes to be spoken to.
And despite the fact that I’ve never met your boss, I’m confident that I know exactly how he likes to be spoken to. Although you’ve probably read lots over the years about different ways to approach the 18, or 23, or 42 different personality types, and may be trying to work out which category your boss fits into, real life is actually much simpler.
Like most other members our species, except perhaps the 3 per cent of psychopaths and sociopaths, your boss almost certainly likes to be spoken to in a way which is clear and direct, as long as you’re also polite, courteous and respectful. So ask him for a one-on-one, and be sure to do three things before the meeting.
First, be clear about your goals. You want your boss to promise to stop hitting you as of today. But you also want him to reassure you that your request won’t damage your relationship.
Second, think about you’ll have to share with your boss to achieve these goals. You probably want to tell him how you feel about what’s happening, and why. You may also want to tell him how you feel about your relationship with him, except for the hitting part.
Third, think about the state of mind you’ll be in when you announce your goals to your boss. It’ll undoubtedly be uncomfortable for you, and he might react badly. But you’ll probably also be telling yourself that it’s better to get it all off your chest.
When you talk to your boss, simply reverse this order. This way, you’ll satisfy your boss’s preference for directness, and ensure you’re being polite. It should sound something like this:
“John, I’m nervous about having this conversation with someone who’s my boss, and I’m conscious that I may even be taking a risk doing so. But I’m also telling myself it’s probably better to get something that’s bothering me off my chest rather than bottling it up. So here goes.
“I’m really uncomfortable with the fact that I seem to get hit by you quite a lot in the office. I’m happy to tell you why it makes me uncomfortable – happy too to tell you how I feel about working with you apart from that one thing.
“And I hope that when you’ve heard me out, you’ll feel able to promise me that, from today, I don’t have to worry about getting hit anymore. And I also hope you’ll be able to reassure me that coming to see you about this won’t have any impact on our relationship. How does that sound to you John?”