Boost your boss

Extra steps to improve relationship with your supervisor can pay off

Posted: Monday, October 10, 2005

Sure, it sounds like common sense. But, surprisingly few employees understand what really bothers their boss, and even fewer come right out and ask. But taking that extra step could dramatically improve your relationship with supervisors, and could even prevent communication problems down the road.

Mark Goulston, M.D., author of "Get Out of Your Own Way at Work... and Help Others Do the Same: Conquering Self-Defeating Behavior on the Job" (Putnam Adult, $24.95) believes in the positive effects of asking your boss, "What are three things that I should never do as a subordinate, and what are three things I should always do?"

"This is so important because you want to avoid dying for the sins of the person who was previously in your position," explains Goulston, a Los Angeles-based specialist in applied emotional intelligence.

Past is present

"Sometimes bosses will have a raw nerve in certain areas that really upset them with prior subordinates. For instance, if a prior subordinate was always late in turning things in, or always turned things in with typos, or who gossiped, there's a good chance that if you do something in an accidental way that is a hot button for your boss, [he or she] is going to come at you with huge wrath."

Taking this type of initiative is impressive to most employers and shows that you realize that doing a good job involves getting along with your boss. With that said, have this discussion as soon as possible after being hired, adds Goulston.

Talk it out

Goulston advises new hires to schedule a formal meeting with the boss two weeks from your first day on the job to discuss not only your boss's priorities and expectations of you, but also your expectations and understanding of what the boss's duties are.

For some people, however, meeting with the boss may be easier said than done. That's why Kevin Salwen, co-founding editor of Worthwhile magazine, suggests heeding the advice - and warnings - that co-workers may offer.

"What's often maligned as gossip is actually the best way of gathering intelligence about what a new boss might or might not like," he explains. "It's critical that you do this. Most of us don't actually work for companies; we work for our bosses. They are the first people we need to sell on any project, well before it ever comes close to reaching a customer."

Listen up

Salwen advises employees both new and experienced to pay attention to what others have to say about your supervisor. However, he warns, think of those gripes as information gathering rather than adding to the office gossip.

"I learned this in my very first job as a teenager at a dry cleaner in Brooklyn," he says. "As the owner was explaining how I needed to match the number to assure an order was complete, he said, 'Then you put one of these twistems through the hangers.' Later on, I asked him where to find those 'twist ties.' 'We call them twistems here,' he said. Important to him, important to me, I realized."

Who needs who?

While employees certainly have good reason to want to please the boss, some experts believe the tables will soon turn.

"When skilled employees are more difficult to come by than customers - and that will happen very soon in many areas - then employers are going to be very weary of upsetting the employees," explains Joyce Gioia, president of the Herman Group, a workplace consulting company based in Greensboro, N.C. "Bosses need to be reasonable and polite. You don't want to give somebody work to do at five o'clock in the evening - just because you stay until seven o'clock in the evening doesn't necessarily mean that your employee wants to do that."

By initially putting forth the extra effort of getting to know the boss, both parties gain a happier and less stressful work environment, says Gioia. For example, if your boss enjoys his or her kids' sporting events, it may be beneficial to take an interest in those activities by simply asking. Doing so could increase your rapport and even put you ahead of the game come promotion time.

- Lisa Radke

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