Not getting along with your boss has got to be one of the most painful work experiences anyone can have.
According to a recent Gallup poll, 75% of workers who voluntarily leave their jobs do so to escape from their manager. People leave managers, not companies. If this is happening in your world, know you are not alone and there are several things you can do to improve the situation.
Let’s make it better. If the tension between the two of you is obvious, it’s always best to step up and request a 1:1 meeting, then prepare for what I call a crucial conversation.
Start by thinking about the outcome you want. If you can’t point to anything specific and things just feel awkward, your desired outcome may be simply to open the lines of communication. To do this, you need to create a safety zone for your boss to give you feedback. Pick a time and place where you have privacy and won’t be rushed (Friday afternoons can work well). Here are some suggestions for structuring the conversation:
1. Start by sharing your intent: You value your working relationship and want to have the best one possible.
2. Share what you’ve noticed: It could be something specific, such as not being included in a key meeting, or leading a project. If you messed up, your desired outcome may be forgiveness. Apologize without excuses and address how you are going to make it right. Ask how your boss was impacted by the situation and if there is any action you can take to fix things.
If there’s nothing specific, share that you wanted to check in and see if there’s any feedback that could make you more effective in your role. Reiterate that you want a healthy open dialogue and that their opinions and observations are important to your professional development; and nothing is off-limits. That you want and welcome the feedback. (Note: You must be willing to receive feedback and my advice here will only work if you have the courage and vulnerability to do this.) This is a moment of truth. This is the critical moment when your boss will either decide to believe you and give you an honest appraisal or demur, evade, or decide you can’t handle the feedback and soft-pedal the conversation. If your boss regularly avoids conflict, some of this is out of your control - but do your level best to create that safety zone.
3. Sit back and listen: Be comfortable with silence. Do not rush in with verbal filler or comments. Your goal is to get your boss talking, to get information and seek to understand. If you don’t understand some of the feedback, ask open, clarifying questions. (For example, ask “What one thing could I start doing that would make me more effective in my job?”) You may not agree with the feedback. That’s okay - your job here is to listen well and collect information about your boss’ perception of you. They have a right to their opinion and your goal is to find out what that is. Coming off defensive will set you back. It’s worse to have a blind spot. Once you understand their perception, you can begin to address it.
Good luck, and let me know how it goes!