Dave Conrad: ‘I just don’t get along with my boss’
Dear Dave: My question isn’t complex or earth-shaking; I just do not get along with my boss. My coworkers don’t seem to have a problem with her. My boss and I may simply have personality problems and we rub each other the wrong way. We have not had any major fights, but I can see how one could develop. I don’t want problems and I don’t want to get fired. How can I get along with her better? — S
Dear S: I don’t have much information to go on here, so I will answer your question as best as I can. First, let me say that, you are correct in stating you don’t want to get fired — keeping your job is job one. Remember, your skirmishes with your boss can create major battles that you will never win.
Most often, when an employee does not get along with his or her boss, there has been a breakdown in trust, in communication, or in respect. Something or many things have happened — real or imagined — and an employee and their boss have driven a wedge between each other. Emotions kick in and a wall is put up. This is sad, because the true nature of successful work depends on the sharing of information, collaborative problem-solving, and, generally, a sense of camaraderie — believing we are in this together.
Have you asked your co-workers how they get along with your boss? Find out how other people see your boss by asking them questions, but do not bad-mouth your boss before you start talking with your coworkers. Obviously, most will feel pressure to tell you what you want to hear. However, many employees will give you a straight answer that may signal they have no problems with her.
If you find that everyone has a problem with her, then you have established a cold, hard fact — your boss is not liked and she has some major leadership problems. However, if only you have difficulties with her, then you need to come clean and figure out what the relationship problems are and why they continue to fester. Only you can figure out why you have problems with her.
Find the why
It may be best to do a little soul-searching and prepare a list of what has transpired between you and your boss and why these things have divided your relationship. But be careful: your emotions could drive what is on the list and create a false impression of what the truth is. For example: have you worked closely on a project together in the past and only your boss had come up with the best solutions? Could this possibly have caused you to dislike her, because she was more insightful and solution-oriented than you? Your relationship problem may stem from an emotional envy you have for her ingenuity — simply, you were jealous of her because she did the best thinking.
On the other end of the spectrum, you may have a poor relationship, because you think she rejected your ideas before you had a chance to be fully heard. Then, I would say you have a legitimate reason to have a problem with your boss, but this rejection should not cause you to dislike her — I would say this problem should be looked at as a communication problem that could be fixed.
Try having a heart-to-heart meeting with her. Ask your boss if you could meet to discuss some important ideas that may help the department. When you meet, be controlled, calm and rational. Explain that you believe communication can be improved and you have some ideas to improve it. I would not just blurt out, “I don’t like you and I am mad.” The best dialogue may occur when your boss sees that you are trying to improve things and you have some important and usable things to say. This takes emotions off the table and moves things toward a positive, constructive state.
Even if you disagree on many types of things, ask her if you can have a short meeting to reestablish what your key job objectives are and how you can collaboratively create action steps for you to achieve them. Ask her for her ideas and opinions and take them to heart. Don’t patronize her, but seek her counsel and listen intently as she describes what she would like to see and how she would like to see things get done. Then, do those very things.
I believe that working closely with others is one of the best ways to create bonds, so try to work with her and not against her. She may not become your best friend, but she can look upon you as a good, positive worker — and all bosses like productive employees.
In summary, always keep in mind that having a positive, productive and healthy relationship with your boss is critical to your professional success and your ability to keep your job.