The Unexpected Conversation with My Boss

Speaking up is not always easy, especially when it comes to our jobs. A Speaker Sisterhood club member shares her story of finding her voice and the courage to speak up at work and go after the career she truly wants.

It was a difficult thing to say, especially since my boss was on the receiving end: “This is not the right job for me.” My inner voice had been telling me this for well over a year.  I had churned the words around in my head so much that I felt like a hypocrite sitting at my desk, going through the motions of my daily work routine.

Most people, including myself, would have usually just stuffed the feelings of discontent down, found another opportunity, and given the traditional 2-week notice, with a more customary explanation: “The company is closer to home,” “The company is offering me $10,000 more.” All the while, the real truth — that I need something more creative, more autonomous, less administrative — would just stagnate inside me, and eventually be buried in the routine of the new job. My boss had begun building a specific department around me with the intention of keeping me in an administrative role. I started to feel panicked by the idea of his expectations of me being the exact opposite of what I want and need. I needed him to know that, while his trust in me and his creation of the position was exciting and flattering, I didn’t want to continue working in a traditional administrative role any more, and that is exactly what the role would have been. I would have been chained to the desk by administrative duties. The traditional schedule of 8:00 – 5:00 no longer felt acceptable to me. My creative energies were screaming for time to write, blog, and create personal development workshops. Starting each day dealing with customer complaints for the first hour was draining the life out of me. I wanted autonomy, flexibility, and creativity in my day to day work life. After 20 years of administration and project management, I was ready for a role focused on coaching, connecting people to new ideas on how to grow as individuals and professionals, and, ultimately, being in charge of my daily routine.

Like most people, for my entire professional life, I’ve settled on circumstance and available jobs that seemed to fit the bill: administrative roles that pay pretty well.  The problem is that although I’ve done really well in my administrative capacities, I haven’t been happy. I’ve been caught up in a cycle of administration that goes nowhere, a repetitive and somewhat mindless cycle of tasks and duties. I’ve been stuck on a wheel that turns by the power of process, but never actually moves forward. I have swallowed my discontent so often that I began to feel it choking me. When anxiety is high, and you feel like you can’t swallow or breathe, you know something has to change.

The time finally came for me to speak my truth and tell my boss how I’d been feeling about my current role and my strong desire to work with a completely different professional environment around me. Although I didn’t have all of the fine details of what that might be, I did know it would be built on creativity, strategy, and effective communication. If I was going to share this with my boss, I knew I would have to put some forethought and planning into this conversation. In my planning, I had to consider: Who is my audience? What did I hope to accomplish? What did I want my boss to walk away with? What did I want myself to walk away with?  As I worked my way through the process, I realized something: I was mimicking the principles I had learned through the Speaker Sisterhood, as if I were preparing a speech. My plan, however, wasn’t to give a 5 minute monologue, but rather participate in a focused, well-prepared conversation. I wasn’t prepared to give my notice, but at the same time I wanted him to anticipate an upcoming change, either in my availability or job duties, or one day leaving the company.

The process of preparing didn’t just come naturally to me. I consciously subscribed to the S.T.A.G.E. process I learned through the Speaker Sisterhood. STAGE is an acronym for Style, Truth, Art, Group, and Energy. My goal was to plan a meaningful and well-thought out discussion, with one underlying theme: I’m going to speak up for myself, and be my own best advocate. I focused on what I wanted my energy, tone, and body language to be like during the meeting. I thought about the style in which I wanted to deliver the news. I concluded that I wanted the conversation to be natural, as if we were two people out for coffee, with dialogue going both ways (Style). I knew what type of discussion would appeal to my boss, one that was honest and direct, so that was my goal (Truth). I considered having notes in front of me, but opted not to have notes in order to keep the conversation casual (Art). I wanted to be specific in the discussion so what I shared was clear, concise, and he could see how connected I was to the topic (Group). I wanted to maintain a poised, confident, and reasonable attitude (Energy).

My planning worked. Something very unexpected happened — I was greeted with a very supportive and accepting response. In fact, my boss actually offered to work with me to help me develop a role, even on a temporary basis that would be more in line with the type of work I saw myself doing long-term. He offered to build more flexibility into my work schedule, which was a huge plus. What almost knocked me off my chair was when he said, “I can see how important this is to you, and I respect you. Let me know what you need, and we’ll work together to reach it.”

I was floored! I had no idea how he was going to respond, and I certainly didn’t expect an offer to help me reach my goals. More importantly, I felt proud of myself and realized how brave it was to be so honest, especially since my job was on the line. You hear people say, “Go after what you want,” but to actually do it can be very intimidating and downright scary. However, something changed during my preparation and over the course of that conversation. I suddenly felt the playing field level. It was no longer about an employee and a boss, it was about two professional minded individuals having a meaningful and productive conversation. I was mindful of his company’s needs, while helping him to see my own needs as well.

I am so grateful that I had taken time to think things through, and to plan such a difficult conversation. Had I relied on improvisation or emotion, the discussion could have very easily steered off course. Instead, I remained focused, poised, and confident. Since that initial conversation, my boss has invited me for a follow up discussion to get down to specifics. Although there is more pressure on me now to identify the specifics that I want to ask for, I feel more confident in myself to deliver the requests in such a way to get the best possible outcome for us both. Through my initial experience, I learned I can trust myself to say what I need to say, and it helped me to build trust in the person on the other side of the table. I also know I’m deserving of what I want and need professionally, and finally going after it is truly empowering.

I’m now looking forward to our upcoming conversation, because it’s another opportunity to speak up for myself and pursue what I truly want in my professional world. I can now hear the voice inside me saying, “You’re doing it. You’re sharing your truth. Now you will get to live it.”