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When You’re Afraid to Talk to Your Boss

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Warning! Relationship patterns from your past can influence your relationships at work now — without your knowledge or consent.

“I’m so angry about my schedule that I’m ready to quit this job, too! I don’t understand why this keeps happening to me. It’s the third time in four years. I’m getting worried about how unstable I’ll look on my resume.” Elizabeth was fuming.

A negative situation that happens over and over again frequently is like a red flag to me. As a relationship coach, I’m curious. Elizabeth seems like a competent professional. What is really going on here?

Laurie: “Have you discussed this problem with your supervisor?”

Elizabeth: “Of course. I told her what I want, but she never listens to me.”

Laurie (suspicious): “How did you tell her?”

Elizabeth: “I turned in my written schedule request on the standard form, just like everyone else does.

Laurie: “How many forms does your supervisor get every week?

Elizabeth: “I guess there are about fifteen other employees.”

Laurie: “Elizabeth, what do you think would happen if you spoke directly to your supervisor about how unhappy you are?”

Elizabeth (with great conviction): “I couldn’t do that; she would get angry at me!”

I am really curious now. How does she know her supervisor would get angry with her? Is there evidence that her supervisor acts inappropriately? On a hunch, knowing that present problem perceptions often are rooted in the past, I ask a seemingly off-track question.

Laurie: “Did someone else get angry at you for talking about how you feel?”

Elizabeth: “My mother used to get furious with me when I wanted to do ordinary teenage things like go out with my friends. She expected me to babysit the younger kids while she worked a swing shift. I moved in with my boyfriend when I was 17, just to get away from her.”

Laurie: “Elizabeth, how should your mother have treated you?”

Elizabeth: “I knew she had to work, I just wish she had listened instead of getting angry, and that once in a while she could have either stayed home herself or at least found another sitter.”

Now I had the information about where Elizabeth’s expectations had come from. I wondered if she really had a difficult supervisor.

Laurie: “Have you ever seen or heard about your supervisor being as unreasonable as your mother?”

Elizabeth (thinking): “Not really; I’ve never seen her lose her cool with anyone. She is usually pretty nice.”

Laurie: “Elizabeth, can you see any connections between the two situations?

Elizabeth: “I guess I’m expecting my supervisor to treat me the same way my mother did. I’m ready to run away again instead of risking telling her what I want, face to face, and giving her a chance to change things. She just might rearrange things if I ask. I can at least give it a try.”

Elizabeth did take the risk of discussing the problem with her supervisor. She was immensely relieved to be actually listened to and heard. Her supervisor promised to review the situation and see what changes could be made.

Are you like Elizabeth? Do you respond to present problems with behavior that made sense in the past? Do you unconsciously expect a familiar negative response if you ask for what you really want or need?

Learning to communicate effectively at work is a common challenge. It does get easier when you recognize that your own history may be part of the problem that needs to be solved.

Claim your complimentary e-course, Secrets For Turning Difficult Conversations Into Amazing Opportunities for Cooperation and Success at

Laurie Weiss, Ph.D. is a Master Certified Coach and relationship expert. Email [email protected]


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  • Posted On December 4, 2006
  • Published articles 283513

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