What if your boss doesn't like you
Do you have a feeling in the pit of your stomach that you and you boss just don’t click? Are you flummoxed about why your manager seems to interact so effortlessly with your colleagues but then avoids you or acts like you’re not there? Do you worry that they don’t trust you or, even worse, don’t like you? Before you work yourself into a frenzy, take a moment to assess what’s really going on and identify what’s causing the strain in your relationship. Once you do, you can build a targeted plan for how to make things better.
If Trust Is the Problem
First, consider the possibility that the disconnect you’re feeling stems from them not having confidence in you. Signs that your boss doesn’t trust you are usually overt. The most obvious indication that your boss doesn’t think you’re able to deliver is getting assigned lower-quality work than your peers.
Rehabilitating your boss’s trust will require deliberate steps.
First, start by clarifying their expectations. A majority of confidence issues I see stem from bosses who weren’t clear about what they wanted. At your next planning conversation — say, while discussing your annual development plan or during a monthly one-on-one meeting — have your boss lay out exactly what they want to see by asking them, “What kind of contribution are you looking for from someone in my role?” “How could I add more value in this job?” or “What areas do you see as most important for me to develop?”
Once you feel clear on what’s expected, you need an all-out campaign to enhance your boss’ perception that you are both competent and reliable. To address the competence side, engage with your manager about what knowledge, skills, or experience will be required to succeed. Pair a strength with a weakness. For example, you might say, “I have three years of experience with these suppliers, so I’m confident there. Who could I speak with that could get me up to speed on this customer account?”
If your boss doesn’t have confidence in you, don’t try to rush from zero to hero. Instead, make steady progress by clarifying your boss’ expectations, demonstrating your competence, and earning a reputation as someone who will deliver.
If Connection Is the Problem
What if the problem isn’t that your boss lacks confidence in you, but that they just don’t like you? The signs that your boss doesn’t feel a natural connection with you are different than those signaling concern about your competence.
First, watch for eye contact, which is one of the most obvious indicators of how comfortable people are with each other. Communication expert Nick Morgan argues that your subconscious is very good at picking up cues from eye contact and other body language. If your boss makes significantly less eye contact with you than with your colleagues, it’s a reliable sign that they don’t feel connected to you.
If you want to strengthen your connection with your boss, start by engaging in conversations about work issues. Pay attention to which topics get the boss’s attention and energy and create an opportunity to tap into that excitement. For example, “I think your experience in R&D is really interesting. What part of the R&D mindset do you think we could apply in our work?” To be blunt, if you want your boss to like you, like them first.
Now that you’ve got ideas for what to say to forge a stronger relationship with your boss, you can move on to what you show — the realm of body language. Body language expert Mark Bowden advises that you use open palm gestures at naval height because they will trigger your boss into feeling more connected to you. He explains that when you expose this zone around your navel, which Bowden refers to as the truthplane, you are demonstrating that you have no weapons and you’re signaling that you think the environment is safe. Your boss will naturally begin to feel more comfortable with you. Another option for using body language to improve your connection with your boss is to take cues about their preference for eye contact.
Broaden Your Focus
Just as your instincts might steer you wrong in trying to earn your boss’ confidence, they might also be doing you a disservice when you’re trying to get your boss to like you. First and foremost, humans have a negativity bias and you might be conjuring a problem that isn’t there.
And even if you are certain that your boss doesn’t like you, don’t panic and start oversharing or following your boss around like a lost puppy. Too much unwanted attention might cause your boss to withdraw even more. It’s also extremely important to resist the urge to complain about your boss to your colleagues. Gossiping will only make things worse.
One final note. While you’re working on your relationship with your boss, start building your coalition elsewhere. Be sure to invest in your relationships with coworkers; if they like you and have confidence in you, their feelings are likely to rub off on your boss. It’s hard for your boss to maintain a poor image of you if your colleagues think you’re a big asset to the team.
Finally, be sure to invest in your own resilience with chances to relax and connect with friends outside of work. Feeling under-appreciated can take a toll so be sure to prioritize time with those who value you.
Research shows that your relationship with your boss is one of the most important factors in your experience of work. If your boss doesn’t have confidence in you, you’re likely to miss out on plum opportunities or to suffer through micro-management. You can attempt to rectify your boss’ unfair assessment by clarifying their expectations, increasing their confidence in your ability, and boosting their comfort that you will deliver.
If your boss is confident in you but just doesn’t seem to like you, stop talking and starting listening. Engage your boss to learn about the world through their eyes and you’ll slowly start to see them open up to you.
If your relationship with your boss isn’t where you’d like it, don’t lose hope. Change your approach and see if you can spark a connection.