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Do you ever get the feeling that your boss hates you? Chances are you have good reason to feel that way–even if it’s not as bad as you suspect. The worst part about working for a manager who’s either soured on your performance or who just resents you unfairly for personal reasons is that it’s difficult to change their mind.
Still, it doesn’t mean your only option is to quit. It’s helpful to watch your boss’s behavior anthropologically, in order to identify the likely reasons for their displeasure toward you. These are a few of the questions you should go about answering first.
1. WHAT WAS THE LAST PROBLEM YOU GOT CREDIT FOR SOLVING?
In every organization there are “problem pointers” and “problem fixers.” Pointers point out problems to their bosses then step back, believing their job is done. Fixers identify problems and then go the extra step and recommend some smart ways to fix them. Most people have occupied both roles at some point or another, but you might want to reflect on your recent track record: Have you clearly been a fixer lately on a few separate occasions and–crucially–gotten the credit you deserve?
If you can’t answer a clear “yes” on both counts, it might be because your boss is only tuning into the “problem-pointing” that you’re doing and needs to see more fixing. (Sometimes it’s just a matter of communicating better about the solutions you’re already putting forward.)
2. HOW OFTEN DOES YOUR BOSS CATCH YOUR MISTAKES?
If you assume your boss can flag any errors you’ve made after you hand in your work, you’re taking the wrong approach. Your goal should be to deliver projects and tasks back to your manager with zero mistakes, making it easy for him to breeze through reviewing your work and get on with him day. It’s every manager’s job to to give constructive feedback now and then, but constantly fixing every little error will get annoying.
3. ARE YOUR PRIORITIES ALSO YOUR BOSS’S PRIORITIES?
Your boss just gave you an assignment that’s important to her. You put it on your to-do list, and there it sits. As soon as your other projects are completed, you plan to get to it. Meanwhile, silently, your boss is irritated because her project isn’t done.
The fact is that as soon as your boss gives you a project, that project should go to the top of your to-do list. Maybe there’s a generous deadline, or maybe there isn’t–but don’t confuse lack of urgency with lack of importance. Work hard on the project and hand it back in great shape–ideally ahead of schedule. Your boss will know that your priorities support hers.
4. ARE ROUTINE TASKS TAKING YOU LONGER THAN THEY USED TO?
You just aren’t doing your job. You know it and your boss knows it. Maybe it’s because you’ve taken on new responsibilities, but it’s still leading your boss to have to check in and micromanage you on other key tasks. If you’re feeling overloaded, sit down and have a chat about how you’re spending your time. Otherwise, it’s very simple: Just keep nailing the basics! If you can continue to do that well and independently, your boss should like you just fine (barring any other issues beyond your control). If your manager is constantly on you for one thing or another, there will be constant friction between you.
5. DO YOU AND YOUR BOSS STILL EXCHANGE FRIENDLY BANTER?
It’s impossible to have a great relationship with everybody at work. But it’s just your rotten luck that the person that you have the worstrelationship with happens to be your manager. Is all lost? Not necessarily.
Even if you no longer make pleasant small talk and the mood is chilly and uncomfortable every time you interact, you can still try thawing it by “mirroring.” Find some aspect of your boss’s work habits, attitude, or workplace demeanor that you can take a cue from and adopt yourself. It’s not about being creepy or inauthentic and assuming your manager’s personality–but subtly matching some aspect of their own behavior can help your boss see that you have more in common than they might have thought. That can improve your interactions and lighten some of the tension between you.
After all, your relationship with your boss is ultimately the one that counts most. But if you’ve done everything you possibly can to improve it and still find yourself under fire each day, maybe it’s time to find a better boss.