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Annoy your boss and survive
Preetee Brahmbhatt |
September 15, 2005
Gilroy Nunes knows a thing or two about getting the bosses riled up. An employee at a suburban call centre in Mumbai, he remembers referring to his former boss as "a madwoman in gaudy red."
"She was right behind me when I mentioned it," he says, smiling. "I didn't know she was, of course, even though colleagues tried warning me. When I turned around, I thought she would kill me."
She didn't. But she did get him fired, eventually, for some minor issue that he believes had little to do with him. "There are many ways of getting back at an employee who annoys you," he says, "and she simply picked one of them."
When it comes to commenting on his superiors, Gilroy now chooses his words with a little more discretion.
It needn't have ended that way though. A lot of people manage to annoy a lot of bosses. Not all of them end up with a pink slip. "If you apologise the right way, you can emerge unscathed," says Anselm Mendes, a corporate communications professional with a multinational firm. "In fact, you may end up bettering your relationship with your boss."
Why, to begin with, do employees say things about their bosses? While it's usually a primal instinct to badmouth someone in a superior position, some believe there are other reasons such as the need to emerge as a hero in the eyes of colleagues. After all, the hyena that manages to annoy a lion usually gets brownie points in his pack.
"To be honest, it is not a very common occurrence in the Indian industry," says Amit Chincholikar, assistant vice president, corporate human resources, the Aditya Birla Group. "When it does happen, there are a number of reasons. If the boss comes from another industry, for instance, it may take him or her a while to get to know the ropes. He or she may have been the cat's whiskers earlier, but that need not impress new colleagues. It may lead to employees taking liberties while commenting on the boss' abilities."
Chincholikar also believes this kind of badmouthing often comes from employees who have a false sense of identity about their own roles in an organisation. "They may begin to assume, with time, that clients do business with them because of who they are, not because of the organisations they represent. This can be dangerous. It may lead them to walk about with a sense of bravado that could lead to some form of insubordination."
He has valid points to make. It is usually those who aren't particularly keen on their jobs, or those safe in the knowledge that another post can always be found, who indulge in bitching about the boss. But what about those who do it simply to impress colleagues or have a bit of a laugh? How do they get away with it?
There are ways.
1. The direct way
Let's say you made your boss look bad in public. By quoting updated figures in front of a client, for instance, making it seem he wasn't as clued in as you were. Let's say you said something particularly nasty about your boss outside the office that he or she happened to get wind of. You didn't mean to offend, but he or she may not necessarily know that. In both cases, damage control is of prime importance. You need to handle this directly, and fast, to avoid action that could harm your career in the future.
When in the wrong, the first step is to regain your boss' trust. You have managed to make a fool of yourself, while calling into question your abilities as a team member. Apologise at once. "Don't wait in the hope it will blow over," warns Sudhanshu Asthana, a Mumbai-based equity analyst. "A smart comment won't help either, because you have no way of knowing how your boss will react."
It is always better to opt for the direct approach. Seek your boss out and tell him or her you're sorry. Make it sound like you mean it too, or you may worsen the situation.
2. Apologise in public
Then again, as Chincholikar points out, "One cannot criticise in public and then apologise in private. Sometimes, employees say things just to boost their own worth among colleagues. Apologising in private means they can walk out the boss' cabin without losing face among co-workers. People tend to take advantage of this. At the same time, however, bosses who demand apologies in public may be looked at as being needlessly vindictive or mean-spirited."
Situations like these sometimes depend solely on the kind of boss you've been blessed with.
Heena Meerza, a chartered accountant working with a bank, remembers an office party where everyone decided to play a game involving something akin to birthday bumps. "A forfeit involved holding the person and bumping him or her on the ground a couple of times," she says. "When the boss walked in, one of my colleagues promptly held him and convinced a few people to bump him. His suit was ruined."
The boss, apparently, responded by telling the colleague in question to prepare for a transfer to a rural town. Two days later, Heena's colleague went to the office with a gift for the boss, and apologised for his behaviour at the office pantry, in full view of everybody. "The boss relented, and actually smiled," says Heena. "He was also respected more because we suddenly saw his more human side."
3. Accept responsibility
When you do apologise, make sure you accept responsibility for what you have done or said. Try and come up with an explanation that is plausible. Also, if it is an unintentional goof-up, you might want to ask your boss for tips on how to avoid similar situations in future. Your boss will assume you mean well, making it easier to forgive.
4. Don't bring your personal problems to the office
"It's important to try and see a pattern here," says Amit Chincholikar. "If, for instance, I have a fight with my wife, I may get to work and assume the boss is being unreasonable for no apparent reason, simply because I may be in a bad mood. If a boss is magnanimous enough to recognise this, it's his or her choice to forgive and forget, but that depends on the boss in question. At the same time, the impact of the boss' decision on co-workers needs to be evaluated. If he forgives, but employees don't know the reasons, he or she could be perceived as weak."
5. Choose the right forum to air your greviances
Interestingly, Chincholikar adds that badmouthing the boss is rather passe these days. "There are now a lot of forums for the airing of genuine grievances," he says, "like email forums or employee surveys. So, badmouthing your boss isn't really justified anymore."
At the end of the day...
Experts believe that almost all embarrassing moments can be managed without too much of a fuss. It's all about making the right moves at the right time. "At the end of the day," rounds off Chincholikar, "getting away with this sort of behaviour is not easy. After all, just as doctors make the best killers, bosses usually find ways of getting back."
If you've been thinking about a particularly nasty thing to say, then, remember -- it's your funeral.
1. Don't stutter while apologising. Be firm, and mean what you're saying.
2. Don't come up with lame excuses. Your boss may be smarter than you think.
3. Don't make things worse by asking a colleague to apologise for you.
4. If looking cool in front of co-workers is so important, try something other than badmouthing the boss to impress them.
5. It's better to just get your work over with and go home. Why complicate life by taking on a superior?