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New Year, New Relationship with your Boss

If your manager makes you want to go home and scream into a pillow every single night, or you’ve taken up kickboxing just so you can picture your manager’s face on the bag, then keep reading.

So sounds like you are suffering from a toxic relationship with your boss. You are not alone—a EY study (detailed in the Harvard Business Review) recently reported that 58% of people trust strangers more than their own boss! That’s right, they trust a random person off the street more than they trust the guy responsible for their development, compensation, and day-to-day happiness. Pretty scary!

In my coaching work, I see manager-employee toxicity often and so I’ve developed a four-step method that can help reset your relationship with your boss and improve your daily life. I have seen these steps work so I hope you will try them out.

Step 1: Check in with yourself

The first thing I always ask my clients to do is take stock of their mindset. You may not want to admit it, but you are probably avoiding talking with your manager. Oh and you are probably telling yourself an elaborate story of exactly how your boss is plotting to wreak havoc on your career.

Do you ever find yourself thinking, “He’s giving me this painful assignment because he wants to prove a point” or “She tried to call me out in that meeting because she just assumes I’m not prepared, even when I am”?

We all engage in negative self-talk and catastrophizing—the National Science Foundation estimates the average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts each day, and 80% of those are negative. You read that right—80%! So while this may be a common phenomenon, it’s counterproductive to allow that pesky voice to run wild with beliefs of what your manager may or may not be thinking.

Step 2: Take action – ask for feedback.

If communication has broken down between you and your boss, that also probably means you’re not receiving feedback. Feedback is huge, as it’s going to directly impact how engaged you feel in your role.

One Gallup report found that only 30% of US employees are engaged at work, and the other 70% are surely lacking in the feedback department. But asking for feedback is extremely powerful—it can give you the roadmap you need to get the relationship back on track.

I recommend you ask for specific feedback. For example, “how was my communication style on the client call? Would you have addressed that difficult subject in another way? If so how?” Asking for clear input on specific tasks will help you improve, and will show your boss that you value their opinion and the relationship. It’s a win-win!

Step 3: Be vulnerable.

Brené Brown said it best in her book Daring Greatly—“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” Just the thought of being vulnerable can be enough to induce that pit-in-your-stomach feeling. But if you truly want to change your relationship with your manager, it’s going to take courageous.

What does being vulnerable look like? It could be sharing examples with your boss of past experiences where you worked well together. It could involve pointing out specific times you felt proud of your work, and then letting your boss know what they did to support you in achieving that success.

Don’t be shy to tout your accomplishments and also to shine a light on times you felt less-than. A good boss should be receptive to an employee who shares what success feels like to them.

Step 4: Think like a boss.

This exercise can really make a difference . . . and no, it doesn’t require you to eating that suspect chicken noodle soup from Pret that your boss is inexplicably fond of (is it really chicken, though?)

I recently worked with a client (we can call him Joe) who was struggling to get along with his new, overly demanding boss. In our session we discussed various pressures that Joe’s manager might be under; for example, the demands he gets from senior leadership. It sounds simple enough, but just illuminating this idea that Joe’s boss also faced his own challenges—whether they are personal or professional—defused the tense the situation, helped my client experience true empathy and a desire to help his manager.

Upon realizing that Joe’s boss had to provide regular detailed reports to his bosses, my client made a commitment to share information throughout his work flow process, rather than just looping in his manager at the very end stage.

After a month and a half, Joe received glowing feedback from the manager, who felt he had elevated his work significantly.

Using the 4 step process outlined above, I am confident that any professional can begin to repair a tricky relationship with their manager. Now you can go and enjoy your kickboxing class without using your boss’ face as a target!


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