June 24, 2010
Is it ever okay to diss the boss in public?
We were just talking about giving your boss a bad review when this week it came to light that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the country's top military dog in Afghanistan, gave his own boss, President Barack Obama, a scathing review in the pages of Rolling Stone magazine.
[U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal | Photo courtesy of isafmedia]
(For those who somehow missed the story, McChrystal has since turned in his resignation to the President, and the POTUS has named Gen. David Petraeus as McChrystal's replacement.)
Obviously, getting caught dissing the boss is never good. When you're a major military commander charged with running a costly war and keeping your nation and troops safe, this is doubly bad.
But don't take my word for it. To see what a business etiquette expert had to say, I called Mary Mitchell of The Mitchell Organization, a Seattle-based consulting firm that teaches people how to act and communicate with professionalism and courtesy in the workplace.
"Admittedly, McChrystal has a lot more responsibility than most of us would on the job," says Mitchell, with the caveat that although she's followed the news coverage of McChrystal's loose lips, she has yet to read the entire Rolling Stone article about him. "He is talking about national security and billions of dollars -- and more importantly -- lives. The time for him to make these statements is when he's no longer in command."
In other words, didn't the general see the movie Almost Famous? Doesn't he know that if you want to keep some scandalous political tidbit off the record, you'd best not say it to the media?
But I don't want to turn this into a political discussion. So let's talk about how the rest of us mere mortals should handle speaking about our superiors or our employer in public.
"Whenever we have to make a statement in our position," Mitchell advises, "we have to keep our ego out of it as best we can and remember that we're talking for the organization whose brand we're supposed to be advancing."
If asked about a policy put forth by your manager that you don't agree with, a neutral "It might not be the way I would do things, but it's also not my call" can save the day, Mitchell suggests. But, she adds, "You need to say that in the same tone of voice that you would also say 'It's raining outside.'" No snark, no eye rolls, no sarcastic tone.
If you can't bring yourself to play Switzerland, "There's nothing wrong with saying, 'It's just not appropriate for me to comment,'" Mitchell says.
But what if you're not in the media or public spotlight? What if you just have a genuine gripe about the boss you'd like to air? When is it okay to start flapping your gums at the office, and when would you be better served keeping mum?
"Every organization has its own channels of dissent," Mitchell advises. But before you use them, she warns, "You have to first think about, 'What's going to be the fallout of my saying this? Am I going to get fired? Is somebody on my account going to get fired? What good, if any, will come of it?'"
No matter how low an opinion you have of your boss's IQ or character, it's never a good idea to hang your concerns about the way your department's being run on a litany of insults. Instead, Mitchell recommends keeping things strictly business, channeling the powers of constructive feedback, and summoning your best diplomacy skills.
"The more you can depersonalize it, the greater the likelihood that you can affect some positive change," Mitchell explains. "If the boss can handle dissent at all -- which everybody in leadership should be able to do -- he or she will feel better about the way you handled it."
"But if you call people an idiot," she adds, "you're sunk."
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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