What's your problem?

How honest should I be when I give feedback to my boss? Sometimes his ideas are awful and I think maybe I should rein in my criticisms, because I don't want to get on the wrong side of him.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I'm one of the people who has to execute the projects he conjures up and I know what a nightmare they can be when he gets them wrong. My pals just nod in agreement because they don't want to put their necks on the line, but I can't keep my mouth shut. Is this what office politics is all about? What should I do?

A: I hope you've read Scoop by Evelyn Waugh. If you haven't, you've got a great treat in store. If you have, you'll remember how his editors deal with their megalomaniac boss, Lord Copper, proprietor of The Daily Beast. When Lord Copper was right in one of his confident questions, they'd say: 'Definitely, Lord Copper.' And when he was wrong - as in 'Yokohama is the capital of Japan, isn't it?' - they'd say: 'Up to a point, Lord Copper.'

I suspect you need to develop an equivalent code for dealing with your own boss. I'm not suggesting that you greet each of his dreadful ideas with breathless admiration; just that you find a way of registering reasonable scepticism without resorting to immediate and public disparagement.

Your boss must know by now that, although some of his ideas are perfectly OK, some are most certainly not. But he still needs to float them: to gauge reactions and elicit feedback. If you're as open and public in your criticisms as you seem to suggest, you make it extremely difficult for him to have second thoughts without losing face.

You may think it's not your job to save your boss's face. Well, strictly speaking, it's not. But if a little bit of benign cunning cuts down on the number of doomed projects you find yourself committed to, isn't that justifiable?

'Interesting idea, boss. But to my mind, not quite as interesting as your other one ...' Try it, anyway. It worked with Lord Copper.

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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