How To Repair A Bad Opinion By A Boss?

A question is asked about how to repair a bad opinion by a boss, based on something that happened in a meeting. 

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Question: 

I’m mid-level in the advertising business where it’s important to be a go-getter. My company recently met with a collaborating company to discuss a joint-ad campaign. However, their terms were not favorable to us. I was more familiar with the account than my boss—he was at this meeting to finalize the terms of the deal.

However, during the meeting, it became clear that the other company was giving us the short end of the stick in this deal so I spoke up and pushed for a better deal. Admittedly, I was very forceful. My boss remained quiet for the remainder of the meeting.

Afterwards, my boss said he was shocked at my tone and “this side of me” and that I was too aggressive, especially in light of the fact that after hearing the other company’s terms, they had the upper hand. I apologized and said I thought I was negotiating a better deal for our company. We ended up still getting the deal (but with the unfavorable terms). The other company has been keeping in contact with me, so although they might’ve thought I was aggressive, they still want the business deal. But what ultimately matters is what my boss thinks.

I’m afraid now that my boss has a bad opinion of me and thinks I was too aggressive or overshadowed him or was unprofessional or professionally immature or all of the above. Ultimately, I want a promotion and I’m afraid this might’ve ruined it because my boss might think I’m a wild card or I’m gunning for his position (I am not). Advice on moving forward and getting the promotion anyway? How can I overcome the bad opinion by my boss, if that is the way he feels?

Answer from Ask the Workplace Doctors:

It is understandable that you are concerned about the opinion your boss may have of you, after the meeting. Having your boss say he was shocked at hearing that side of you, if it was said in a disapproving way, would be worrisome and unsettling and may sound as though he formed a bad opinion of you.

It may be that he has given the situation some thought since then and realizes you were trying to look out for the company, but does not see a reason to tell you that he understands your actions. Or, he could still feel negatively, but not plan to take any action. Or, he could feel negatively and will not recommend or support a promotion for you. The only way you will have any accurate indicators of his feelings now will be to talk to him, at least briefly, about it.

Consider doing what you would want someone to do if you were the boss—it will be good practice! I am certain you would want an employee to communicate with you. You would also want the employee to be respectful but open and honest and willing to acknowledge an error, if you felt strongly there was one. You would want them to listen to you, not argue. And, you would hope they would learn from the experience.

You can tell that describes a conversation in which you may need to censor your thoughts! However, nearly always such a conversation clears things up somewhat and makes everyone feel better.

Do not delay. Get this settled or at least start the process of repair of his bad opinion, if that is needed. Go to his office and, without faking a reason, just say what you are concerned about:

“Mr. Ross, ever since that meeting with Acme Ads, I have been worried about what you said afterwards, that you were shocked at my aggressiveness about it. I know we talked about it at the time, but I’m still worried about you thinking I handled it wrong. I hope you know I only meant the best for our company and I don’t want you to have a bad opinion of me.”

(You might not say it quite that way, but you should be that open about it, I think.) You do not need to say more than that, just stop there and let him respond. Most of us make the mistake of saying too much and digging the hole deeper. Just develop a simple thing to say and say it and let him respond.

After your boss expresses some thoughts, your response back to him is crucial to your relationship and your future in the business. First, you will be better off to just let him say what he will, without voicing any disagreement you might have. You are asking for his thoughts and he may give them to you whether you like it or not!

Listen with understanding and thank him for letting you know how he feels. He may reassure you or he may criticize you more—but human nature being what it is, he almost certainly will appreciate your courage in talking to him about it, if you are respectful of his position and show willingness to learn from the experience. You can reinforce that after the meeting by being even more purposeful than usual about developing in your work and becoming more valuable all the time.

If you do not talk to your boss about it, you and he both may feel some constraint when working together, especially about this or similar projects. The next thing you know, the constraint becomes constant awkwardness. After a while, you will have lost his support for sure, because why would he support someone for promotion if he does not feel comfortable around that person?

One positive thing to consider is that the promotion you hope to gain one day probably requires someone who is confident and assertive in appropriate ways. So, even though your boss did not like seeing you respond in that way in your current role, he may realize that it would be useful in the role you would have upon promotion. He may have been concerned, but not necessarily have a bad opinion of you, overall.

I know these situations cause a lot of worry—probably even away from work. But, work and life will move on and give you chances to replace the memories of this in your mind and the mind of your boss, with something current that is more positive.

Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how it works out.

Ask the Workplace Doctors,
Tina Rowe