July 7, 2021

When and How to Speak Up to Your Boss

I'm Melissa
I'm a Career and Leadership Coach for Women in Pharma/Biotech. I've been where you are, and I help you create the career you want without working more hours or settling for good enough.
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When should you speak up with your boss and if you do, how do you do it?

Bosses can be tricky, especially if the relationship isn’t great. You don’t want to land in HR, damage your career, or make the situation worse.

I get it.

This is an action packed episode so you may want to take some notes.

What You’ll Learn

3 specific circumstances when you should always speak up

My strategy for how to speak up in a way that is going to get you the outcome you want

1 simple thing you can do today that will help you get more comfortable with speaking up and advocating for yourself

Featured in This Episode

Apply for 1-1 coaching at www.melissamlawrence.com/apply

Take the free quiz: Are you in the right career? and get a free bonus guide by going to www.melissamlawrence.com/quiz.

Share your story:  www.melissamlawrence.com/yourstory

Previous episodes mentioned:

Master Difficult Conversations 

Reporting to a New Boss

When You Know More Than Your Boss

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Welcome to Navigating Your Career, the only podcast that blends personal development, professional skills and psychology to help you get happy at work and live the life you want. If you want to stop feeling stuck and start feeling better, this is the place for you. I’m your host, Melissa Lawrence.

Let’s get started.

Hello, everyone, and welcome to this week’s episode of the podcast!  How are you? It is July. We are getting into the summer and vacations are coming back like it’s 2019, OK? I’m definitely looking forward to getting out and about a little bit more this summer. Now, if you haven’t been tuning into the podcast lately, my gosh, go back and take a listen. There has been so much positive feedback. People are applying the four mistakes that people make when trying to get promoted and seeing so much growth.

The episode with Chris of Workforce Genetics was so good, where we really broke down how to grow your career in industry. And then last week – last week was all about gender issues and why they are still so prevalent in biotech and pharma, really life sciences, despite all of the efforts around diversity, inclusion and equity. This month you’re going to notice that we are going to talk more about bosses. They make a difference in whether or not you stay at your job or leave it.

Some of you want to be one and some of you are struggling. And I’m going to share with you on a deeper level how you can work with your boss, better, get what you need, advocate for yourself. We are going to break down challenges I hear from my clients and how to overcome them. So it is going to be a really fun month. If you want to be sure not to miss any of this, make sure that you are subscribed to the podcast, and if we aren’t connected on LinkedIn, be sure to send me a request or follow me there.

You can find me under my name and my username is melissamlaw. Now, let’s get started. This week. I am talking about speaking up to your boss. Look, I get it. When your boss does something that isn’t great, isn’t supporting you, how you need it, isn’t recognizing you, doesn’t seem to have an investment in you or is maybe just making your job harder…

What do you do? If you speak up, you don’t want to fracture the relationship or be retaliated against. If you don’t speak up, you can end up miserable. So how do you know when to speak up and when not to? If you decide to, how do you do it? First, I’m going to talk about when to speak up. Then I’ll get into the how. Knowing when to speak up is tricky because retaliation can be a real thing.

Depending on the temperament of your boss, there could be negative consequences. And ideally, I think you should always speak up to your boss. If they aren’t meeting your needs, if there is a problem, I think you should use your voice. When we don’t speak up when things are against our value systems or causing us to be disengaged at work, everyone suffers. I also think that when you’re in a situation where you’re not happy your needs aren’t being met, you’re feeling disrespected, even beat down, depending on your boss.

When you don’t speak up against that behavior, it sends a really conflicting message to your brain that you’re not worth speaking up, that you deserve to be treated that way. And so I really want to empower all of you that if you’re in a situation where someone is treating you in a way that doesn’t make you feel good, makes you feel disrespected or less than, that it’s important to stand up against that. And I know that might be risky at work.

I know that you then think, what am I going to do? Am I going to have to change jobs? But I want you to think about the long term of being in a culture and an environment where someone treats you that way, because regardless of title or money or tenure, no one deserves to be disrespected and harmed psychologically, emotionally or in any other way. But I totally understand that this may seem risky, and I’ve heard stories from my clients, colleagues and friends about their bosses yelling at them when they provide feedback, retaliation, turning the feedback around, and then instead telling you exactly what they think you need to improve on. All of the things.

And there’s going to be a balance here, and the reality is, if your boss is toxic, as in they run their business like a dictator, don’t listen to feedback, don’t support your growth and development, are rude, maybe even offensive to you and members of the team, then this is something that in a safe environment should be escalated. But if it isn’t safe to do that and your boss is going to be around for the foreseeable future, then you have a tough decision to make.

Is it going to be worth it to stick around or are you better off working for a company or even for yourself where you will be treated with respect? Because being mistreated day after day, constant fire fighting, because your boss is micromanaging you, delaying your ability to do your job, that can take a toll on your mental health and your overall quality of life. With that said, let’s assume that this is something that isn’t so bad that you need an immediate exit strategy and instead something that you want to find a way to improve, and you believe that there is still some hope. Number one, when your boss’s style isn’t giving you what you need to do your job well, if your boss is one to not communicate well, to leave you out of important meetings, to give you last minute information or information too late that prevents you from doing your job to the best of your abilities, you should definitely speak up and let them know. They likely don’t know that they are doing this, and it can end up looking poorly on you if you don’t do as good of a job because you didn’t have all of the pertinent information that you needed.

Number two, when your boss or someone you know is behaving in a way that is discriminatory or unlawful. And this is sticky because it is one of the worst things to experience and seems even harder to report. But there is no room for this in the workplace and you are entitled to a safe space. And I wish you could see me right now because I am shaking my finger back and forth like I’m scolding them that there is no place for this.

So there is no place for this. If they or someone you know are bullying you, harassing you or others, using language that is offensive, this needs to be addressed. I would also include here what I talked about last week with programs that are biased, or if you take a training program that doesn’t seem consistent with your company values or an inclusive workplace, definitely speak up in those situations as well, because oftentimes there are people creating these programs that are not the most inclusive, not necessarily because they’re not trying to be, but because their lens isn’t inclusive of every type of person and they’re not always doing due diligence to kind of get voice of the customer or that perspective from a wide range of people to make sure that that content really resonates and isn’t offensive and actually is inclusive.

So any time that there’s something that you’re experiencing at work that you think is offensive, discriminatory, if there’s some sort of unlawful behavior, then definitely that is something that you shouldn’t just sit on. And hopefully your company has some sort of anonymous hotline or something like that so that you can provide this feedback if you’re not comfortable raising it to the person directly or your boss directly. Number three, when you see a way to improve a system or process. This one is a little tricky.

You can add great value by calling out a system or process that could be done another way. I mean, that is why you were there with your brilliant mind and talent is to help them be the best they can. But there is a time and a place. For example, if you go in on your first day, first week or even first month and start telling your boss all of the inefficiencies, you see, this may not go over well.

They may think that this is offensive for someone new to come in and tell them that they know better. At least that is how it can be viewed. Same with if you give this feedback during a meeting with several other people, this could be seen as embarrassing someone. So I will talk about that more in the how. But keep in mind that you should definitely speak up. But there are some considerations with this to help your ideas be heard.

So these are the three things I suggest you always speak up about, one, when your boss isn’t giving you what you need and I talked about work information to do your job, but that would also include things like communicating well with you, meeting your needs as far as recognition and how you like to be valued or how you see value, listening to your ideas, any of those things about ways of working. I always suggest working those things out when you first get together, when you first start at that manager-employee relationship.

But if that isn’t possible, the next best day is today. So you can still have that conversation when your boss isn’t giving you what you need, either as an employee or the work kind of task deliverable front. So that is number one. Number two, when your boss or someone you know is discriminatory or unlawful. And number three, when you see a way to improve a system or process. OK, now let’s get into the how. So let’s say you found something that you want to speak up about.

How do you get this to land the way that you intend? The first thing I want you to do is to separate facts from story. We all have the story of what happened and then there are the facts. And the way our brains work is to delete and distort information, to run efficiently and protect us. So chances are there are some things about the situation that have a little flavor to them, based on your personal filter. It’s not you.

We all have them. So if let’s say you don’t think that your boss values you or cares about your contribution or even you as a person, ask yourself, what is all of the evidence that supports that this is true? Then I want you to flip it and ask yourself, what are all the ways that this is not true? Yes, we are going to make your brain work a little harder. By asking your brain to disprove your belief., you are sending it to search for that information that it distorted or deleted, often to protect you.

It will help you remember what, if any, ways your boss has shown you that you are valued and they care about your contribution and you as a person. Then I want you to think about their perspective. What could they be thinking with some of the things they did that you didn’t appreciate? The goal of this is to help you step outside of your story and see this situation more objectively. This applies whether the issue is about your boss meeting your needs, if it is about something that could be seen as discriminatory or when you see something that could be improved. Before speaking up, I think we need to be really clear on our angle and get as objective as possible.

I have mentioned to do this work even deeper in an earlier podcast episode, Master Difficult Conversations. So if you want to dig further into this, there is a whole episode on difficult conversations and the framework you can use to tap into the other person’s motives and objectives and so you can influence them with confidence. The next tip that I’m going to give you is to consider their communication style. I want you to think about how they like to receive information.

I use a tool with my clients that helps you understand yourself and others’ communication preferences. And if you haven’t taken any sort of assessment or know your communication style or theirs, then just think about how you’ve seen them communicate in the past. Do they like facts? Do they lead from the heart? Are they fast paced? Do they think things through cautiously? These questions can help you frame your feedback in a way that they will receive it well, So if they are more fact oriented and cautious or slow paced, you wouldn’t want to go in talking about how you feel, how upset you or others are and throwing a lot of information at them.

You would want to present the facts as much as possible, be slower in your delivery, pause, give them time to digest and be as neutral as possible. Now, if they’re the opposite, then you would want to describe how the feedback will help the people and provide information more quickly. So knowing how your boss likes to receive information will definitely help your message be received more effectively. The next tip is to go in knowing what you want, go in with an idea of what you want from this conversation, is it just to share the information?

Is it a change? Do you want them to escalate it to HR? Do you want regular one on ones? Do you want to restructure your 1-1s to talk about more than project work? Do you want them to address an issue with the team? Do you want to be on a project where you can be implementing a new idea? What is it that you’re hoping your boss will do with the information that you are providing. Next when you can, provide a potential solution.

If you want your boss to behave differently or do something on your behalf, then tell them you have a thought or a way of doing something and that this can fix whatever the problem is that you are bringing to their attention. They likely will want to hear your thoughts and you will also be able to then communicate this message well, thinking about what they need from their perspective and also providing a solution to the problem that you’re presenting to them. And then the last tip that I would mention here is really around the art of influence.

So at the end of the day, with the exception of just an unlawful, discriminatory offense, you are trying to influence your boss to do something differently – to meet a need, to listen to your idea, to change a process, to give you something they aren’t giving you now. And even if it is something that is common sense to you, that is clearly a right and wrong, black and white situation. It might not be to them. So think about how can you influence them to see your perspective?

How can you meet them where they are? Use these strategies I’m sharing with you to help them see that your suggestion is a good one. Oftentimes I see people go in and just say what they want and why. And when it isn’t listened to or implemented, they leave feeling like they aren’t heard or their ideas aren’t valued. That isn’t always the case. Saying what you want and why can seem reasonable, but it’s really just focused on you, not them or anyone else, as harsh as that may sound. It’s all coming from your perspective. Your perspective isn’t wrong necessarily, but we are dealing with humans here. We are all thinking about what is in it for us. How does this help or hurt us? So you need to consider that when you’re trying to get someone to do something differently. OK, so we’ve covered when to speak up, which wasn’t an exhaustive list, but definitely the areas I suggest you always raise your hand and offer your perspective, which is when your boss isn’t giving you what you need, when your boss or someone else is being unlawful or discriminatory, and when you have an idea to improve a system or process.

We also talked about how to do this.  To separate facts from story, consider their communication style, know what you want, be solution oriented. We talked about the art of influence. You can go back and listen to Master Difficult Conversations, which is really intended for those conversations with people you don’t expect to go well. If your boss is confrontational or doesn’t listen, if you have a stakeholder that is challenging to work with, that episode is all about how to deal with that.

And the action I want you to take is, if there is something, just one thing that you think if your boss did differently, it would positively impact your day, your week, your month. I want you to think about that and the biggest pain point that you have. Start with this one thing and apply what I taught you today in this episode. How can you use these strategies to improve your work situation and one small way to start. Then you can build on it.

This can be a way to get your feet wet and take a step toward making some progress, because bringing up all of these things that you have, you might have a lot of grievances against your boss. It can be overwhelming for both of you. Now, one more thing before we go today. It has become clear to me that you need an outlet to share your experience at work without fear of retaliation or landing yourself in H.R.. There are the things that your company says are your values and then how people actually behave.

And I am hearing time and time again about bosses or colleagues who get promoted despite having questionable methods and leaving a trail of dead bodies, as they say. I hear about others who put people down, take credit for people’s work or are questionably discriminatory. And I want us to be able to address real problems and experiences on the show. So I am going to give you a platform. If there is something that you’re struggling with, you’re not the only one.

I created a page on my website where you can submit your story anonymously. Think of it like Taxicab Confessions, but for work issues. I will personally review your submission and share your story without your name or company information. And I will provide advice to you and the listeners on how to address the issue. When we talk about what our experiences really are, we can make more progress in our lives and our work cultures and in our society. We have to be able to speak our truths even when they aren’t popular.

But the fact is, workplaces aren’t always safe to do this. So if you are in this situation and you want to share and get some help, head over to my website. You can access additional information about this and submit your story at www.melissamlawrence.com/yourstory.  I will put a link in the show notes. There is also an episode I want to mention on reporting to a new boss and when you know more than your boss and how to handle those challenging situations.

So there are a few different podcast episodes on different types of challenges of working with your boss, so you can also check those out as well. Otherwise, I look forward to talking to you next week. And if you have a story you want to share, head over to my website and let me know. Have an amazing week. I will talk to you soon. Coaching with me is the best way to guarantee you get happy at work and achieve your career and life goals.

Getting started is easy. Head over to www.melissamlawrence.com to learn more and apply. It is the first step to get you from feeling stuck to knowing exactly what you want and have the tools to make it a reality. I will be by your side the entire way. I will put the link in the show notes.

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Hi, I’m Melissa.

Career & Leadership Coach for Women in Pharma/Biotech

I'm a former Talent & Development leader in Pharma/Biotech turned CEO and Certified Professional Career & Life Coach. I also host the podcast, Your Worthy Career.

I've been where you are, and I help you create the career you want without working more hours or settling for good enough.

I'm leading a movement of women in the industry who are figuring out exactly what they want and shattering the glass ceiling. The very real ceiling in the industry, but also the one that we impose on ourselves. 

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