Has your relationship with your boss suddenly changed (and you’re not sure why)?
It’s smart of you to notice, and even smarter of you to do something about it.
So many of us settle for an unhealthy relationship with our manager, hoping that it will eventually blow over. The truth is, relationships are a lot like icebergs – what you see above the water is usually rooted in something much bigger happening beneath the surface.
What you may experience as a pattern of sharp feedback or increased micromanaging might be rooted in something bigger. Even if it’s not, sweeping these concerns under the rug will likely put you on edge and make you more likely to make mistakes or assume the worst.
If you’re serious about improving your relationship with your manager, you’ll have to be willing to take 100% responsibility for making the relationship a success.
In a dream world, your manager may see what you’re doing and want to meet you halfway, but you can’t bank on that.
If trust has been broken, it will take a while to rebuild. If your competence is in question, you may need several successes before you chip away at their false perception of you. No matter what the root cause of the breach is, you must be willing to stay the course and be consistent until the relationship turns around.
To improve your relationship with your manager you must convince them that you can and will help them be successful.
This convincing isn’t about apologies or persuasive words: it’s about consistently communicating through your language, work products, loyalty, and warmth that you care about your company, your boss, and your team and that you have the skills to get your job done well.
So how do we do that? It’s easier than you think:
Human beings aren’t stupid. We are biologically programmed to know when someone is faking admiration for us. Our gut tells us not to trust them, and our suspicion goes into high gear. Your manager is no different.
You won’t be able to build a relationship with your manager if deep down, you don’t respect them. Unfortunately, respecting them isn’t something we can pretend our way into. To like or respect someone, you have to find things about them you want to emulate. The good news is, even if your manager is Mr. Hyde on steroids, chances are there are things about them worth admiring. Take a minute to decide what those things are and keep them top of mind.
One way to do this is to create a sincere one-sentence response to the question, “What do you most admire about your manager?” Have that response handy, and find a way to use it when asked about them and their skills. You’ll find that telling others what you like about them makes you believe it more. As a bonus, if your manager hears that you’ve been spreading praise about them, it can’t hurt your relationship.
Be meticulous about keeping your word
If you say you’ll be at work at 8:30 am, do it. If you promise a deliverable by a deadline, keep that deadline. Don’t lie or exaggerate, even if it will save you a headache. If you make a mistake or miss a deadline, acknowledge it before they do. Lastly, keep what they tell you in confidence private.
If you’ve been inconsistent in the past where your word is concerned, admit it. Share what you’re working on to make it better. By being transparent about your intentions, and then keeping those intentions, you prove you’re worth trusting.
Set sustainable boundaries and occasionally say no
Seasoned bosses respect people who tell them the truth – even when the truth is “no.”
By setting manageable (but realistic) boundaries with your boss, you protect yourself from burnout and ensure you can deliver for them long-term. Sometimes these boundaries need to be stretched in particularly busy seasons, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth setting. By setting boundaries before they’re needed, you ensure that you don’t become bitter or resentful about work patterns you’ve inadvertently agreed to (working late, weekends, checking your email on vacation, etc.).
Similarly, by negotiating project context and deadlines on the front-end, you prove that you take delivering on deadlines seriously. It’s much better to under-promise and delight your boss by over-delivering than to verbally assent to something you know won’t happen.
Prioritize what matters (to them)
Chances are there are a handful of projects your boss cares about the most. Ensure that these projects are front and center on your to-do list.
When you hit a major milestone with these projects, keep your boss in the loop.When you burn the midnight oil, ensure they know that you’re prioritizing this task because it’s important AND because it’s important to them. Share some of the praise for the project’s successes by heralding them as a champion of the project. Arm them with stats, sound-bites, and other information to share with their boss and peers about what you’ve accomplished together.
Show them you take their feedback seriously
When your boss pulls you aside with some corrective feedback, show them you prize their feedback by:
//Writing it down and repeating their points to them to ensure you captured the feedback correctly;
//Following up the conversation with an email (or a note at your next check-in) thanking them for the feedback and telling them what you plan to do differently.
//Building systems or habits to remind yourself of the feedback and integrate the change they suggested.
//Picking a few moments over the next few months to remind them of the feedback you gave and what you’ve done to internalize it. If there has been a positive impact as a result of implementing their feedback, be sure to share it.
Be loyal when they’re not around
Trust is the most fragile component of your relationship with your manager: breaking it can be fatal to your relationship. Don’t say anything about them publicly, or even behind closed doors that you wouldn’t say to their face. Don’t give feedback about them to their manager, if you haven’t voiced it to them first. Work as hard when they’re home sick as you would if they were with you in the office. Don’t conspire against them, period – even if they deserve it.
By keeping your loyalty to your manager, you mark yourself as a person who can be trusted and with high ethical standards. This makes you extremely rare and worth keeping around.
Repairing a broken relationship with your manager takes work, but yields dividends in your immediate job and later in your career. By taking the time to build trust and demonstrate your loyalty and competence, you not only save your job – you win a friend and mentor for life.