By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Institute
About a month ago The Catholic Leader featured an article about what to do when someone at work goes over your head to your boss.
The advice we offered was sound -- as far as it went. But it didn’t go far enough.
We noted that when a peer or a person you are supervising goes over your head to your boss, it can be “one of the most difficult and spirit-crushing things that can happen at work.”
We also noted that when you first discover it has happened, “you are thrust into turmoil. A part of you wants to fight. A part of you feels like you have been beat up and tossed in an alley already. Most of all, trust flies right out the window.”
Then we asked the question: What’s a person to do?
Our first advice was sound: “Don’t do anything that you feel like doing.”
We added: “Instead, find a comfortable seat, ideally in your office, and take a breath. Then take another. Yes, this may be a calamity. But maybe it’s not. Maybe it will turn out to be an opportunity for rapid learning – rapid learning with a good outcome. Honest.”
What we didn’t say next – and should have – is that this is one of those challenging moments in life that calls for prayer. When you’re trying to collect yourself and weigh your options, you shouldn’t do it alone.
So don’t. Instead, consciously put yourself in the presence of God and ask for his help.
This is an especially good time to engage in spontaneous prayer. Just talk to God. Tell him what you’re feeling. It might go like this:
Dear God, I am crushed right now. So-And-So went over my head to my boss and I have no idea how it’s going to turn out, except I’m afraid it’s going to be bad. And worse, I feel really betrayed. I thought So-And-So was a friend, at least an ally, and now she goes over my head by going behind my back. How can I ever trust her again? How am I ever going to fix this mess? Please help me.
Then listen for some guidance. My guess is that in a little while you’ll begin to see options. Most likely you see ways to handle the mess by addressing a few small steps you can take with at least a little confidence.
In our initial article we advised: “If you take things slow and deliberately, you may come out of this experience knowing a lot more about both your boss and your report or co-worker. You may even end up with better relationships with one or both.”
But that response has bothered me since the morning after I wrote it. It’s not bad advice. It’s good advice. But you shouldn’t go it alone. Remember, even Jesus got help carrying his cross. Read out to the Lord for help. And keep doing it as events unfold. One thing you can be sure of: You are not alone.
We also initially recommended that you try “to adopt a perspective of curiosity. You want to learn more. It’s not about ‘getting to the bottom of things’ in the next 10 minutes. It’s about exploring exactly what happened and why?"
By all means do that. But don’t do it alone.
A month ago we wrote: “Eventually, you will want to talk to your boss about the incident. But first you may want to talk to your report or co-worker. Even before that, you are going to want to calm down, collect yourself, and bury – or shelve – all your fears.”
Again, don’t try to do this alone. Ask for God’s help.
We also referred you to Amy Gallo, a contributing editor at Harvard Business Review and the author of the HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict at Work, who had more to say about what you should do and not do under the circumstances.
If you didn’t have a chance to check out her advice – which is excellent, as far as it goes -- here’s another opportunity.
Here’s what Amy has to say about addressing this problem.