leadership

When it’s time to tell someone where to go

Jaclyn Densley /

We’ve all thought about it. Some of us have even internally planned every millisecond of how it would play out. For most of though, caution or common sense usually steps in before we get to the point of actually telling our boss to f**k off.

But what if making the statement was the exact phrase needed to finally get your boss to understand your point of view?

“It worked for me,” positive psychologist Michelle McQuaid recalls. “I had that conversation with a very big, very important male boss that I was working for. He was renowned for shouting so loudly that they had to move his office to the end of the room so people couldn’t hear him. That was the kind of guy he was.”

The guy in question was making McQuaid’s working life miserable. He was complaining about her resilience, telling her to toughen up and to be harder on her staff. During her performance review, she decided the only person she needed to toughen up to was the man in front of her.

“I said ‘with the greatest respect, when it comes to my resilience you can go and f*ck yourself’.”

It was a liberating experience. The boss responded to the language. He laughed and moved on. He never questioned her resilience again.

At a time when organisations are spending truckloads of cash on management training, when we have endless studies on management and productivity as well as knowledge on the legal and moral consequences of workplace bullying, are Australian bosses actually getting any better?

McQuaid’s not sure that they are, but from her own research and study knows that a bad manager will play a major part in determining an employee’s productivity and happiness in the office.

While organisations must be held accountable, McQuaid believes employees could be doing more to tackle bad boss behaviour. Having trained up in positive psychology since the incident mentioned above, she’s penned a book, 5 Reasons to Tell your Boss to Go F**k Themselves, and is now an activist for National Boss Day, on October 16.

“As employees, we’re not victims and we’re not helpless,” says McQuaid. “There are things we can do – that include talking or not talking to our bosses – that can make our situations more survivable and even enjoyable.”

So is it really possible to tell your boss to f*ck off?

If you’ve already stood up from your desk to march on over to the corner office, sit back down.

“I think it is possible but it definitely depends on the organisation you’re working on and the culture. It definitely depends on your boss and it definitely depends on the way you deliver it” says McQuaid.

“With any of these conversations with your boss, whether you swear or not the trick is that there are two bits. One is working out what you really want and how can that be a win win for your boss. And secondly, how you can you deliver that information in a way that your boss feels safe.”

And if your boss feels safe with swear words, then so be it.

Handling the bad boss conversation: Quick tips from Michelle McQuaid
• Watch your emotions. It’s easy, when we feel like we’re not doing a good job, for somebody else to trigger off our own emotions. Figure out what may cause this before walking in for the chat so you can plan how to handle your own reaction
• Spot what triggers your boss off. Notice when your boss is at their worst, what happened just before it?
• Determine your boss’ own insecurities and fears. What does your boss get stressed and anxious about?
• If you’re upset about your boss’ behaviour, try and find the funny side. That may mean talking it over with some friends outside of work, running through the scenario: “wouldn’t it be great to tell the boss to just f*ck off?” Having a laugh helps the stress move from the brain.

This article was first published on LeadingCompany’s sister site, Women’s Agenda.

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