Dealing with Conflict

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Updated October 11, 2022

You and your boss are both adults. You’ll each have your own way of doing things, and you’ll have your own opinions on how something should be done. Hopefully, you’ll be able to figure out a way to work well together, but sometimes the two of you will have different opinions on how to accomplish a task.

If you have to disagree with your boss, do so politely and in private.

caution Do not surprise your manager with news in public. Doing so may catch them off guard and make them look unprepared in front of their colleagues, or even worse, their manager. It’s possible your manager may interpret your actions as being disloyal to them.

Context before Content

When you and your boss have a disagreement, they may get defensive because they may think you’re challenging their goals. Oftentimes, they may focus on the intent of your actions, rather than the content of what you’re discussing, which is why it’s always good to clarify the context for why you’re disagreeing with them. If you can manage to help your boss understand your perspective, they may be less defensive and more willing to see the argument from a new point of view.

If possible, try to frame your opinion in the context of a bigger goal or objective. Doing so will allow you to be more candid and honest when discussing your opinion, in addition to helping focus your manager’s thoughts on the shared goal. It will also demonstrate that your difference of opinions is due to an external factor, rather than a personal attack on your boss’s views. If you fail to provide context for your point of view, your manager may perceive your disagreement as a lack of commitment to their own interests.

Respect the Decision

You won’t always be able to achieve the outcome you want, and in the end, your boss has the final say when it comes to important decisions that affect you and your team. If your manager considers your point of view only to decide against it, don’t take it personally and don’t hold it against them. It’s better to respect their decision, be professional, and move on than to continue disagreeing with them. If it’s not clear to you why they made the decision, consider bringing it up during a one-on-one. Perhaps there’s another aspect to the problem that you’re not seeing, and it will help to talk to your boss about the decision they had to make.

Part of becoming a senior software engineer means accepting that not every decision will go your way. Sometimes you need to let go of an opinion you are passionate about and move on. It’s better to work together with your boss as a team and trust that they’re making the right calls, rather than pushing back on every decision they make.

One-on-Ones

Recurring one-on-one meetings are your opportunity to receive direct feedback from your manager about how you can be better as a software engineer. A common misconception among junior software engineers is that one-on-ones are meant to give status updates on their current workload. The conversations with your manager during your one-on-ones should be about career growth, not your day-to-day work. Don’t waste your opportunity by giving a status update about what you’re currently working on. You should be talking about higher level things than individual tasks.

These meetings are just between you and your boss, no one else. It’s precious time for you to be honest and talk about personal things. Try to avoid talking about things that can be discussed in the open with the rest of your team, because that’s not a good use of your time during these meetings. Your one-on-one is a chance to talk about the difficult things that you wouldn’t want to discuss in front of your teammates.

important This can be awkward and uncomfortable at first, but the more open and honest you are about your feelings, the easier it gets.

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