“My boss is so demanding of me”, “She pressures me”, “He asks too much of me.”
Do you ever have these thoughts about your boss? And how do you react when you believe these thoughts? Stressed, anxious, irritable, unhappy? Do you gossip about them to others? Spend your lunchtimes job hunting? Dread Mondays?
The story that “My boss pressures me” is one of the most common complaints I hear in organisations. In my earlier career, I identified with the idea that other people pressured me. This left me stressed, unhappy and a victim of their behaviour. However, once I learnt how to question my thoughts, I experienced a dramatic alleviation of my stress in such situations. And the key insight for me was the understanding that it is my beliefs and reactions, not their behaviour, that cause my stress.
So, how can you, and your organisation, deal with such apparently ‘stressful’ bosses? Below is an outline of the process of ‘inquiry’ I use (also known as ‘The Work’, from the writer, Byron Katie). The process of inquiry has two parts: (a) identify your stressful thought and (b) question that thought, using the questions in bold below. I have provided my own answers to these questions – however, I invite you to consider your own responses as you answer the questions.
“My boss pressures me”
- Is it true? Answer only ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. If your answer is yes, move to question 2. If not, go straight to question 3.
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true, that “your boss is pressuring you”? Again, let your answer simply be ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Yes, they might email you at the weekends, ask you to do more work than you can finish that day, ask you to stay late…but who is ‘pressuring’ you there – them, or you? Does the pressure come from their behaviour, or from how you react and what you believe you need from them? For me, the only person who can ever pressure me…is me. When I believe someone else is the cause of my stress, I’m always going to suffer.
- How do you react, what happens when you believe “your boss is pressuring you?” For me, believing this story led always led to stress. I’d bitch about them to others, avoid them, make plans to leave, dread Mondays, be passive-aggressive…What do you do? How do you feel when you believe they are pressuring you? Notice how you feel (stressed? anxious? unhappy?) and how you act out of that thought.
- Who would you be without this thought? Who would you be without this story about them? After all, you were the one who created it. How would you treat your boss, and yourself, without the thought that they are pressuring you? For me, without this thought I am calm, resourceful, honest and able to act as an equal. No more victimhood, no more blaming.
Then turn it around (a way of considering other perspectives on your original thought) and find 3 examples for each turnaround below, in bold, of how other perspectives on your situation are true. I have given my own examples below; again, please find your own.
“I am pressuring me”
- When I tell myself my boss is somehow ‘in control’ of what I do
- When I tell me I need their approval
- When I hold back my truth for fear of offending them, and leave me feeling powerless
“My boss is not pressuring me”
- I don’t know their true intentions. I may think I do, but when I look closely I see I can never know another’s intentions.
- They don’t make me stay late, or do extra – I do.
- I think if they really knew how I felt about our relationship, they’d be mortified
“I am pressuring my boss”
- When I don’t tell them how I feel about their demands, yet resist them in more subtle or hidden ways
- When I bitch about them to other staff
- When I expect them to behave ‘my way’ rather than their way
What did you notice as you gave your own answers? Are you ready to stop blaming your boss now?
Duncan has over 15 years’ corporate and private sector experience as a trainer and facilitator. He has trained and worked alongside organisations including BT, Accenture, Fullers, Canary Wharf and the UK government and has seen how communication continues to challenge many large organisations in the 21st century.
He draws from his own personal experiences in managing feedback and phobia and is a self-confessed former ‘feedback-phobic’. He speaks directly with HR practitioners about some of the common misconceptions and issues that professionals and managers face when it comes to dealing with feedback and conflict in the workplace.