Seeing eye to eye

Repairing relationship with boss is difficult but possible

Posted: Sunday, July 17, 2005

It's often said that the people you work with affect how you feel about your job. That is especially true of the most crucial of your work relationships - the relationship with your boss.

If you have a bad relationship with your supervisor, you're likely to have a bad work experience. In fact, a study by the Saratoga Institute in San Jose, Calif., analyzed 60,000 exit interviews and found that 80 percent of turnover can be related to unsatisfactory relationships with the boss.

Your relationship with your boss can also affect your career path.

Compatibility, trust essential to working bond with supervisor

   The first step to developing a good relationship with someone is establishing rapport, says Nancy Powers, a professional success coach based in Miami.

   The key to establishing rapport is inspiring trust. The key to doing that, Powers says, is to make the person you are establishing rapport with believe you are just like them.

   "You want to become like the person you want to have the rapport with," Powers says. "The unconscious message is 'This person is like me, I can trust them.' "

   When it comes to establishing rapport with your boss, pay close attention to their use of the elements of rapport - word choice, voice quality (like tone, volume and inflection) and body language - and mirror them.

   "If the boss speaks louder, speak up, if he speaks softer, speak softer," Powers says. "The boss thinks, 'They're like me.' They want someone they can connect with, someone they can get along with."

"This is the person who has the authority to move you forward in terms of promoting you," says Nancy Powers, a professional success coach based in Miami. "And it's at a place that you're spending a tremendous part of your life in. There's a lot of motivation to have a good relationship with the boss."

Sarah O'Donnell, a resident of Hamburg, N.Y., says she once worked at a Cincinnati bank as an administrative assistant for someone who treated her with "scorn and disdain" from first day on the job.

"My co-workers were amazed I stuck it out, but I needed the job," O'Donnell says. "Eventually, maybe about two months into the job, I asked my boss what I could do to get him to ease up on me. I figured I had nothing to lose."

O'Donnell says that her supervisor was silent for a moment, then began apologizing for his behavior.

"It turned out he had hired me as a favor to someone we both knew in the human resources department. He thought I wasn't qualified for the job, even though I did everything he asked from the beginning," O'Donnell says. "Turns out he had someone else in mind for the position and felt pressured to hire me."

O'Donnell says the two talked out their problems and had a cordial - "even pleasant" - relationship until she moved to Hamburg late last year.

Possible solutions

If O'Donnell's experience is any indication, even if your relationship with your boss is far from perfect, don't give up just yet - there are steps you can take to fix the situation. Try following these tips to help ease the strain between you and your boss:

n Identify the problem: You may think everything about your boss is awful, but the truth may be that there are only one or two specific, management style traits that irk you. For example, your boss may have the habit of asking you to attend special events or work late - five minutes before quitting time.

"I encourage people to ask themselves, 'What is the specific trait and what are the steps I can take to eliminate this or at least reduce the negative effects on me?'" says Sandra Hammar, owner of Success Dimensions, a personal performance consulting firm in Deerfield Beach, Fla. "In the case of being asked to stay at the last minute, an employee could set boundaries by saying, 'I already have plans this evening that can't be changed, but usually with 24-hour notice I can stay late.'"

Isolating specific behaviors can also help give you perspective and help you focus on the more positive aspects of your boss - and your job.

"What happens to the employee so often is he or she blows that one trait out of proportion to the extent that everything about the boss or the work situation becomes negative," Hammar says.

Also realize that your own actions could be the cause of the strain in the relationship with your boss.

"Look at your own behavior, there may be some things within it that you have the ability to control," Hammar says.

n Seek answers: If you have any grievances about your job or are experiencing any difficulties, don't put off talking to your boss about them.

"Ask questions, get clarifications, get things in writing and handle things as they come up because resentments build," Hammar says.

When you sit down and have a discussion with your boss, approach the situation with a positive, solution-oriented outlook.

"It's very important to approach the topic objectively, constructively and with a solution attitude, as opposed to airing gripes," Hammar says. "There's a difference between 'I want to gripe about this,' and 'Here's a problem, here's how I think we might be able to fix this, what do you think?'"

n Find out what's expected of you: The friction you are feeling could be the result of you not meeting your boss's expectations.

You can avoid this by thoroughly knowing what's expected of your position. Don't be afraid to ask questions, even if you are no longer new to the job.

"I don't think any employer will be upset by the amount of questions you ask," Powers says. "They'll find it helpful that you want to learn and grow."

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