Managing Conflict With The Boss – Tricky Business
This is the second in a series of blog articles about being thrown under the bus and what you can do about it. In the first article I suggested that you Don’t Throw People Under the Bus. There are almost always better ways to respond. Since that post several of you have asked about what you do if your boss throws you under the bus – so we are dedicating this blog to answering that question.
This is a tricky topic. Because it has many flavors, you must be careful in understanding your particular circumstance before acting. Let’s look at a few generalities first:
Bosses Have Been Doing This For Centuries
People who report to these managers are particularly vulnerable to being thrown under the bus due to the managers’ higher authority, broad sphere of influence, and the ease with which they can make the whole thing look like they are simply doing their jobs. Far too many responsible people have been fired by ruthless managers who, faced with a problem in their part of the organization, blamed a subordinate. To the casual observer they often look like they are simply doing their job and taking responsibility for a tough termination decision, when in fact they are covering up the real problem and shirking all responsibility.
You May Be OK
If your boss throws you under the bus you may be OK in terms of your employment, reputation, and future opportunity within your company. If your boss likes you he may throw you under the bus to protect himself, and then turn around and “go to bat” for you. Again, this makes it look like he is doing his job by supporting a good employee who “made a mistake.” While the situation is still hideous, you probably won’t suffer a lot of collateral damage.
You May Not Be OK
If, on the other hand, your boss can’t protect you because it would contradict her story, or won’t protect you because she views you as expendable, you have cause to be concerned about your employment and reputation.
Whether you are OK or not regarding your employment and reputation, being thrown under the bus by your boss is generally a very painful experience. What you probably thought was a trusting, supportive relationship turns into a betrayal. People may talk about your “failure” behind your back as the latest juicy tidbit of office gossip. People who used to talk to you may now avoid you. All of this hurts – a lot. I am truly sorry for your pain. Unfortunately, life is not fair.
Given these generalities, what do you do if your boss throws you under the bus? Here are some suggestions for managing, and coping with, this conflict:
Understand Why It Happened
The better you understand why your boss threw you under the bus the more informed your decisions will be regarding what to do about it. What problem or responsibility is your boss avoiding? How credible does your bosses’ story sound to others? Why did you become the target? Why now?
Assess Your Responsibility and Risk
Take an objective look at your responsibility in what happened. You may have become the target because you had some responsibility that was somehow tied to the problem. Be prepared to own that part of it. Assess your overall risk and decide where you lie between OK and not OK as discussed above.
Seek Advice From a Mentor
If you have a mentor, this is a good time to seek their advice and support. Depending on their position and influence within the organization, they can be a big help in protecting you and, if appropriate and advisable, setting the record straight.
Seek Personal Support From a Trusted Friend
Find a friend or counselor who you absolutely trust and tell them what happened. This is a very difficult personal experience, and it helps to open up to someone who will care and support you on an emotional level.
Evaluate Your Response Options
Now that you understand what happened, why it happened, your responsibility and your risk, weigh your options. At one extreme you can go head to head with your boss up the chain, refuting his story. This is advisable only if you have iron clad evidence and won’t have to report to your boss going forward, either because he will get fired or you arrange for a transfer. The last thing you want is to “wound” your boss and then still have to report to him.
At the other extreme, when your risk is low, you can let things blow over without further action. In between these extremes you have “back channel” options with mentors, HR, and other people who can influence in your favor without the need for a highly visible and risky showdown with your boss. Above all else, take action that is appropriate and prudent.
Take Steps to Avoid Being Thrown Under the Bus Again
It’s bad enough to be under the bus once. Take steps to avoid it in the future. See our Advance Update for tips on How to Avoid Being Thrown Under the Bus.
I hope you found this blog article helpful. I look forward to your comments and your own experiences with your boss throwing you under the bus.
If you’ve been thrown under the bus, it may be more about your business and its circumstances than with you. Perhaps you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. In any event, there are usually deeper issues in play. Explore our Conflict Management services to find out how Advance Consulting can help. Or, contact us for a confidential, no-obligation consultation.