How to handle authority at work

“I’d like to feel more heard at work” is one of the most common complaints I hear. And when I ask ‘Why don’t you make yourself heard?’, the answer is generally ‘I’m afraid of authority/my boss and what they will think if I speak my mind”.

If you’re struggling to make yourself heard, the root of this lies with the beliefs you hold about what you think you need for your safety and security in that moment. Thoughts such as “I need my boss to approve of me”, “I need this job”, “I can’t handle conflict”. Those are the thoughts that stop you speaking your mind. You can blame your boss all you like; and it will never get you anywhere.

So if you want to feel heard at work, identify your stressful thoughts and question your thinking about the approval you think you need from such authority figures, using the questions below. As an example:

“I need my boss to approve of me”

 

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? Can you be sure you need your bosses approval? Do you ever know when someone else truly approves of you? Is this the only job you can ever do?
  3. How do you react, what happens when you believe “I need my boss to approve of me”? Notice how you feel and behave when you believe this thought. Do you go passive? Try to read their emotions? Be careful around them? When I believe I need approval from anyone, I see how passive, fearful and insecure I become. How I stop listening to what I want and try to ‘manage’ them instead. I make them bigger, more important than me. I see them as ‘authority’ and me as a victim or passenger to that.
  4. Who would you be without the thought “I need my boss to approve of me”? Notice how you feel without this thought. How would it be to go to work each day without the thought that you need their approval? Without this belief, I see I am free, liberated, able to speak my mind. Able to meet them on a level. Able to ask them to listen to me. Able to see my options, to see if this company is right for me. To make myself heard. To no longer feel like a victim.

 

Turn it around: “I don’t need my boss to approve of me”. How is this true?

  • There may be other jobs I can do;
  • I can never really know if someone ‘approves’ of me or not; I will never know their inner world;
  • My boss may appreciate my honesty far more than my passivity;
  • It shows me who to work with, and who not to.

 

About Duncan Lewin

Duncan Lewin is an ex-Deloitte consultant specialised in helping people improve their skills in giving and receiving feedback, managing conflict more productively and handling difficult conversations. He delivers Symposium training courses on feedback and emotional intelligence.

A former ‘feedback-phobic’, Duncan was terrible at handling feedback and criticism. Like many, he had two ways of responding: aggressive and argumentative, or passive and resentful. Neither worked, and both left him stressed. Eventually the stress got too much and he began a deep, personal journey in finding a new way of relating to feedback and conflicting opinions. The results have been startling; Duncan now actively seeks feedback, feels comfortable with conflict and has learnt how to handle even the most difficult conversations with (he hopes!) assertiveness and grace.

He works with a range of clients including BT, Accenture, Exxon Mobil and Canary Wharf Group.

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