7 Ways to Build a Better Boss Relationship
There are few workplace issues as demoralizing as a toxic boss relationship. And if you’re stuck in one, you may be feeling desperate to jump ship before things get worse. I’m not going to argue with you. After all, bad boss relationships can suck the oxygen right out of an otherwise promising career. But before you bail, I would encourage you to take a few mental steps back and consider whether you just might have more control over your current situation than you think you do.
Take a look at these 7 steps that can help salvage your manager relationship – and maybe even forge a positive partnership going forward.
1. Assess and Address Your Formal Communication Process
Do you have a regularly scheduled process dedicated solely to one-on-one updates between you and your boss? If not, make this a top priority. Sure, your boss is busy. But even if she hasn’t asked you to have routine meetings or calls, you still need them. Show the initiative and request them yourself. Start small. A monthly 30-minute call is better than nothing. If you’re already feeling neglected by your boss, draft your request email and wait a day before sending it. Ask a trusted friend to review it for any negative language, tone or implications. Strip those out and hit send. If your boss declines or ignores your request, save the email you sent and plan to send regular neat and tidy, easy to scan updates. If all else fails, you’ll still have this very helpful ongoing documentation of your accomplishments and works in progress.
2. Get Real about Your Informal Communications
Even if you believe your current way of communicating with your manager is above reproach, take this challenge. I guarantee you have nothing to lose by investing in some honest scrutinizing of your own conduct. Remember, your boss is just as human as you are. When is that last time you offered up an authentically positive comment to him about something he accomplished, proposed or assigned to you? Please note that I asked about authentic communication. If you’ve fallen into a habit of offering “polite” commentary to your manager’s face only to follow it up with snide commentary about them behind their back, please know that your boss knows. (Yep, on some level, he knows.) The possibility that “everyone else” feels the same way – or acts the same way – about this manager simply doesn’t excuse your conduct. More importantly, it won’t make your relationship any better. But it’s never too late to commit to a radical overhaul. Find the positive and focus your energies there. When you notice and appreciate something good, say so. When something goes well for you at work, thank your boss for the opportunity. When you disagree with him, do it respectfully and off an alternative idea. And the next time you’re tempted to rejoin the mean-spirited gossip mill, politely decline. If you’re brave enough to explain yourself, your newfound efforts might even be contagious. One quick sentence like, “I’ve been thinking about how I’ve been handling my disappointments lately and I’m trying to take a more positive and helpful approach” can go a long way.
3. Adapt to Different Management Styles
So, maybe your last boss was comfortable with dispensing general directions then giving you free rein to gallop toward the goal as you saw fit, largely unmanaged. And maybe this boss is a micromanager, making you feel watched, babysat and disrespected. But maybe – just maybe – those deeply unpleasant feelings are coming largely from you. Maybe your boss micromanages everyone. Maybe it’s not due to a lack of confidence in your skills but simply a need to be close to the work. My point is that, if you’re not being personally insulted, you can stop feeling personally offended. Let go of the resentment. If others can thrive in spite of (or because of) that management style, you might be able to find a way to thrive there, too.
4. Show Enthusiasm for the Work, Goals, and Values of the Organization
It’s understandable if your motivation has been flagging lately. But if you wear your frustrations – or work weariness – on your sleeve on the job, you actively steer people’s views of you into the negative. That, in turn, only leads to increasingly miserable interactions for you at work. So shake it off. Here, a little bit of fake-it-til-you-make-it can work wonders. Try to put that spring back in your step when you enter the workplace. Smile when you say hello to people. And, above all else, up your level of positive engagement. What does that mean? It means take every opportunity to volunteer for interesting project work, offer up your ideas during team meetings and be a kind and supportive of other people’s work. Your boss will not only notice your efforts. They will, almost certainly, appreciate them.
5. Do a Great Job
I know you already know this, but: you’re being paid to turn in good work. (Plus, your ability to land future, larger positions will sometimes depend on this boss’s perception of that work.) Yet, toxic work relationships – especially those with a manager – often create a slow but slippery downhill slide, damaging productivity, work quality and overall opinions of you, as an employee. No matter how frustrated you are, do not let those irritations impede your ability to perform well on the job. Every day. You want to mend fences with your boss (at least until you can find a better position elsewhere)? Make your boss look like a genius for hiring and managing you. A cautionary note: are you sure you know what “great work” looks like to your boss? Find out. Use those regular meetings I recommended in Step 1 and ask for specific benchmarks that define superior work. Be open to feedback and make early, frequent course corrections to your process and to your end result.
6. Mess up? Fess up!
Have you been turning yourself into a pretzel trying to avoid talking about a mistake you made? Or, have you been going through a rough patch recently, causing your performance to slip uncharacteristically? Maybe the mess up wasn’t yours. Maybe your boss made the mistake but it’s now reflecting poorly on you. Talk about it! If it’s on you, step forward, tell the truth, say you’re sorry and describe the steps you’re taking to ensure it won’t happen again. If it’s on your boss, you still need to step forward. Leave your anger outside the room and in a non-accusatory, I’m-just-looking-to resolve-the-confusion way, describe your concern, describe the effect on you and recommend a solution. Then, let it go.
7. Be True to Yourself and Your Values – and Keep Facing Forward
None of the above advice applies to breaches of organizational values, morals or common decency. If your problems with your boss stem from those, you know what you need to do: report your concerns. But for everything else, it’s healthy to remember that, even if your boss is a very, very difficult person, you still have more control over what you put into the relationship. You don’t need your manager to be your bestie outside of work. You do need – and deserve – a mutually beneficial professional working partnership. Try these steps. Even if they don’t fully turn around your current situation, they’ll help you foster a more positive collaboration with your next boss.