Talking to Your Boss about Being Trapped in a Job

April 10, 2017

Talking to Your Boss about Being Trapped in a Job

We’ve discussed when being too competent at your job can impede your career. This can occur when your boss has a dog-in-the-manger view of good staff; he wants to keep them even if they don’t want to be kept.

Whether to talk to your boss

It’s an option. With some real benefits. If he truly didn’t realize you were unhappy, you two could discuss a path which suits you both. However, and this is a big however, your boss may know what he’s doing and will respond defensively when it is raised.

Look at your boss in other situations. When things go wrong, does he look for a scapegoat? In meetings, does he let others talk or lay down the law? Do you know to watch your ps and qs with him to avoid offending? Things like this should make you think twice. Let your gut be your guide.

The conversation

You’ve decided that, for all his bluster, your boss is a good enough guy you think he’ll listen. I’ll run through a possible conversation, with commentary on the side.

Pick a good time—end of day can be YOU: Ben, got a moment?
BOSS: Sure, Dan, take a pew.
Think through your opening line YOU: You know, I love to really get into things and figure out how to make them work.
  BOSS: Yeah, that’s why you’re so great at your job.
Crucial moment YOU: Thanks. But I’m beginning to feel I need a new challenge.
  BOSS: What about the improvements you promised? They’re challenges.
  YOU: Sure and I’ll get them done. But I’d like to try something completely new.
If you’ve made a mistake and Ben is a bit jerky: BOSS: Are you looking for a promotion or a transfer? I won’t support that. [There would probably be more dancing around—I’m telescoping to the main message.]
Bow out gracefully YOU: Okay, but I thought I’d let you know in case anything comes up.
You’ve raised suspicion BOSS: Okay.
 

But say your boss is open to listening. Reprise.

  YOU: But I’d like to try something completely new.
  BOSS: Like what?
Be specific. He can’t read minds YOU: Well, like Sonja’s new project.
  BOSS: But it’s not your line of work.
  YOU: That’s why I would find it challenging.
This is legitimate BOSS: But Sonja has experience in the area and you haven’t.
  YOU: Okay, but I’d really like to try something new.
  BOSS: (pause)  I could keep you in mind, but honestly, Dan, I need you where you are now. We don’t make our numbers otherwise.
Come in with a suggestion YOU: I’ve thought of that. What if I train Jamie to back me up?
  BOSS: I suppose, but he won’t do it as well.
  YOU: He could if I showed him how.
  BOSS: He could fill in if you’re sick.
  YOU: So, if I have a backup, would you consider me for future projects?
He won’t sign in blood right now BOSS: Might work. If we can develop a backup, we could talk.

Even if you think your boss will listen, go in there with more than a whine. Have a suggestion that meets your needs as well as his and be willing to compromise.  But most of all, be fairly confident he’ll listen. If you’re not reasonably sure, skip this and return to the suggestions I made in the last post.

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