The workplace, just like any place where human beings interact, is complicated by relationships. It is often said that people do not leave jobs they leave their managers. Arguably, the workplace would be easy if people and therefore relationships were not so complicated. Just like the life partner you choose, or the business partner you choose will impact greatly the trajectory of your life and career. Your manager is a key player in your day to day life and therefore your mental health and overall productivity. We wish we could always leave relationships that we don’t like but sometimes that is not immediately possible. Here’s what I suggest you do when you and your boss just don’t have the greatest of relationships.
- Are you triggered? Check yourself first.
You are triggered when your response to a situation or a person is greater in proportion to the stimuli. The reason is usually that it triggers something that happened in the past. When you find yourself disliking a person for no reason, they usually remind you of a person in the past that acted similarly. This results in you not just responding to that person, but what that person subconsciously represents. You want to first ascertain whether there is something about them that triggers that you need to deal interpersonally so that it doesn’t trigger you so much anymore.
- Seek first to understand before seeking to be understood.
Your boss, like you, is human and therefore is not perfect. Just like you have a right to have stuff that is not so great about you all the time. People behave the way they do because of who they are, where they are from, and where they are. Often when you allow yourself to really see a person and understand why they would act in a way that’s unappealing to you, it becomes easier to tolerate their unappealing behavior and find strategies to navigate them.
- Get into their shoes.
There are a lot of things that become clearer to me why the bosses I did not have the greatest relationships with acted the way they did. I had this one black woman boss whom I heard later that she didn’t like me even though I thought we had a great relationship (a story for another day). I later learned that she had just gotten this job, where she was finally going to be at the top of the table. She had plenty of plans and even more insecurities along with a layout to augment her new position. We tried to warn her that the organization was not yet ready for that type of running and she took that as being unsupportive. We were motivated by the knowledge of the organization and not her personal goals. Our resistance to a new way of working was probably partly to the workload that was coming to us like a Tsunami out of nowhere. We just didn’t see each other.
- What are their goals?
Your job as a subordinate is to help your leader meet their objectives; to help them win. When you think about how the balanced scorecard is designed, helping your boss meet the objective of her responsibility is your job. When you do that well and they shine, they might not necessarily like you but have to value you. The other stakeholders will even force them to acknowledge you by singing your praises to them. If they are a decent person, they will come around to respecting you.
- Except….. if they are a narcissistic bully
Some people do not belong in the general population. They should either choose another career path, work in an office alone or at least be far away from you. They can’t be won over, can’t reason with them, can’t love or understand them. If you are working for a person like that, maybe start looking for a new job. Seek mental help support and keep all records like crazy. I know that the law doesn’t allow people to be recorded without their consent but nothing beats hard evidence if you are in an extreme situation. If you are planning to take them on, don’t do it alone. Get a therapist, coach, mentor, or a trusted friend to support you. Count the cost before you go to war. You may not win and the price for being right may not be worth it.