One simple question that will reframe interactions with a tough boss (and not get you fired)


By Mike Schnaidt

“Does everyone on the team deserve to be here?”

This question was posed by the person who went on to become tech design leader Eve Binder’s boss at a large company. And of course, they were hired.

You’ll deal with bad bosses at all stages of your career. Luckily, the experience is temporary—one of you will eventually move on. Your best move while stuck together? Reframe it as a learning experience of what not to do once you become a leader.

Binder sharpened her skills in confrontational questioning. “When asked to do something I didn’t agree with, I wouldn’t ask why—that felt aggressive,” she says. “Instead, I would ask, “What do you expect the impact to be?”

This is a tool called the Socratic method—you ask provocative questions to stimulate critical thinking. It helped Binder understand her bosses’ motivations and solve their thorny problems.

This bad-boss experience helped Binder flourish as a leader. In her current role as senior design manager, she reframes prescriptive comments from executives, such as “I want you to do this,” into exciting opportunities, such as “How can we make this moment feel more celebratory?” This gives her team members a chance to formulate their own solutions and become more invested in the final product.

For every after-hours emailing, credit-stealing, and gaslighting boss, there’s an opportunity to learn what not to do once you’re the person in charge.

Manage your manager

A field guide to taming all types of bosses.

The micromanager
Problem: They want to be a part of every step of your creative process.
Solution: Specify exactly what you’d like feedback on, so it doesn’t get unwieldy.

The scorcher
Problem: They’re sarcastic and shred your work to bits.
Solution: Get personal. Tell them it feels deflating. They may see it in a different way, as if they are being humorous.

One simple question that will reframe interactions with a tough boss (and not get you fired)


The transient
Problem: They give you wishy-washy feedback.
Solution: Set regular check-ins, and create a shared document of your goals. Refer back to those goals during your check-ins.

The rebel
Problem: They want to change the company overnight.
Solution: Offer insights into other coworkers in the office and how they might be able to help.

The young one
Problem: They have less experience than you.
Solution: Explain the inner workings of the office, and processes that could improve, and seek their fresh perspective.

This article was excerpted from Creative Endurance: 56 Rules for Overcoming Obstacles and Achieving Your Goals by Mike Schnaidt and reprinted with permission from Rockport Publishers.