Building Resilience, Powering Performance

How is your relationship with your boss?

It is the most significant relationship at work and determines how you experience your life at the workplace. A positive and productive relationship is vital for your professional success. It increases your chance of getting plum assignments, access to resources you need, meaningful feedback, recognition, and rewards for your work. An uneasy relationship will create a negative everyday work experience and cause your career to suffer.   

You may experience a strained relationship with your boss in any of the following ways –

  • Lack of trust – It is possible that your boss’s mistrust of you stems from their lack of confidence in your ability to do the job. You will know this if you find your boss micro-managing you or handing over more critical projects to someone else.
  • Differences in style – Your boss’s dislike of you may stem from the differences in your style of functioning. You evidence this when their corrections are all about how you do things. In meetings, they may ostensibly reject your idea but then present it in different words.
  • Lack of connection – This could be due to differences in values and priorities caused by variance in age, gender, culture, etc., e.g., their views on work-life balance or family support. This reflects in the awkwardness in conversation or the lack of conversation beyond the task at hand.
  • Your boss is insecure – If your technical skills are better or your relationships with senior leaders stronger than your boss’s, it may threaten them. They may want to be copied on every email or get edgy seeing you speak up in meetings or talk to stakeholders.

Even if your relationship with your boss is causing you unhappiness, managing this relationship is a critical part of your job. First and foremost, look within and check if you are contributing to it in any way. Your sentiments towards them will be visible to them. If you do not respect them, your boss will surely know, and it will get in the way of building a good working relationship with them. Do what you need to and manage your emotions towards them. Everybody has something positive in them. Focus on the positive traits of your boss and build from there. The following tips may help you further navigate this critical relationship –

  • Clarify expectations. Often issues crop up when either the boss is unclear about what they need or there is a gap in the employee’s understanding. Ask direct questions to clarify what is expected from you at the start of any assignment. Seeking alignment on goals will set you up to deliver well and help your boss reflect on what will meet their needs. Share your plan of action and do frequent check-ins with them to give both of you a chance to course-correct in a timely manner.
  • Be open. Seek help to think things through if you need it. Do not hesitate to ask for their perspective. Acknowledge their insights and give them credit for their support. Set expectations if you are likely to take longer than you committed. Do not try to hide issues or be defensive about your mistakes. Be transparent and avoid any unpleasant surprises.
  • Know your boss well. What is their communication style, do they prefer emails or face-to-face updates, how frequently do they want to be updated, and whether they are ok with you dropping into their office impromptu, or must you always schedule time with them? If you invest time to know them, you will know how to meet their expectations and that often their behavior is not about you.
  • Connect on a human level. Know your boss beyond the work, how they are as a person, their journey, what excites them, what they care about, and their defining experiences. You may find some overlapping interests to bond over. Even if you do not have chemistry, there is a higher chance you will note the positives and develop mutual respect.
  • Be direct. If nothing works, acknowledge that you do not always gel and ask directly, what you can do differently to support them better.
  • Be compassionate. It is difficult to show compassion to someone you are having a hard time with however, most bad bosses are not bad people. They are either not dealing with pressure well or have some behavioral weaknesses. Try to look at life from their lens and offer support.   

The bottom line is to recognize that a part of your job is to make your boss look good. So, anticipate your boss’s needs, do your job well, share credit, and ask how else you can make their life easier. 

Finally, if you have tried everything in your power to mend the relationship with your boss, and yet it seems that you can not work well together, it may be time to consider moving on to a new role within or outside the organization.