I’ve had a lot of uncomfortable discussions with bosses. A few things I’ve told them that come to mind…
“You deliberately humiliated another employee on a group call, and that level of immaturity and pettiness is professionally unacceptable.”
“Your administrative assistant, whom you love like a son, says casually and openly racist things whenever you’re not in the room.”
“You need to pay me $20,000 more dollars.”
To be fair, I said that last one nicer. And I had some great PowerPoint slides to go along with it!
Unlike a lot of people, I am actually very comfortable with conflict. I would even say I thrive on it. (There’s no way to say that and not sound like an asshole, but I am what God made me: an ENTJ.) Of all people, I probably go into a confrontational situation with the least possible amount of anxiety.
Nevertheless, I need extra deodorant on those days. My hands shake. My voice trembles. Which I really, truly hate. It makes people think I’m nervous, when it’s more of an under-exercized-border-collie-looking-at-a-fat-city-pigeon-and-trembling-with-overwhelming-herding-instinct situation.
Having a difficult conversation with your boss is really hard. They’re often terribly high-stakes. Depending on the nature of the conversation, you may feel like you’re ambushing your boss with new and unpleasant information. Your life and livelihood may feel like they hang in the balance. It is not easy to stay chill.
That’s why I have a secret weapon for going into such conversations.
If music be the food of fucking crushing it, play on
There’s lots of science behind this. A moderate amount of background noise promotes abstract thinking and creativity. Music training is also positively correlated with an increase in both vocabulary and nonverbal reasoning skills. Listening to music also helps an athlete override their body’s fatigue signals, allowing them to push further—despite needing 7% less oxygen overall.
I am a huge believer in the pump-yourself-up playlist. I created my first one when a friend was pushing me to give a guy my phone number. (To be clear: I have given a man my phone number exactly once in my entire life. He did not call. NO RAGRETS.) I pretty much knew that the outcome wasn’t going to be what I wanted, but my friend recognized that I almost never did things unless I knew success was assured—a fact that makes me great with money and bad at dating smoking hot people. Tempting failure is a surprisingly important life skill, so I went along. My playlist (titled “CONQUEST!!!1”) was invaluable in shoring up my nerve.
*Hacking cough, hacking cough* I am now in the twilight of my life, an ancient crone of thirty-one years, and I’ve been married for a while now. My husband is pleasingly-yet-not-garishly attractive. But the trick of psyching myself up with music has worked ever since.
Boss fight music
In video games, there is often a regular song that plays during regular fights, and a special boss theme played only when confronting major bosses. I stick to this strategy, and have earmarked a certain song from my library to only play when I’m pumping myself up to have a difficult boss conversation.
What is it? Hmm, well, it’s a secret. But we’re all friends here. It’s Kiryuin Satsuki’s theme from Kill La Kill.
(One of the finest anime ever created, only one season, and it’s on Netflix. Go on, you know what to do with all of that information.)
It works really well for me because it sounds like the soundtrack to a military parade thrown by an extremely competent narcissist. And no, that’s not a dig at Donald Trump. I said competent! Before my last awkward boss conversation (“my work assignments suck and you’re too junior to manage me”), I trumpeted this song on repeat for the drive in to work. By the time I arrived, I felt in control of myself, focused, and ready to rip throats out. Our talk was successful, and I came out of that meeting with a new boss and better assignments.
This song ain’t necessarily gonna work for you. One of the amazing things about music is that different genres light up different areas of our brains on an individual basis. There’s something out there that will make you feel the same way. You just have to find it!
Asking for a raise, requesting a change of assignments, confronting bad culture… that shit is intimidating. Do you have an awesome song that pumps you up to to face these bosses? Tell us about it in the comments below! Because I am 100% going to burn them all onto a mix CD to listen to in my car, here, in the year 2003.