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Your boss hates you – what should you do?
This is a common problem, I’ve discovered, when checking back through the many emails where I have been asked that very question. When you find yourself in this position, is it a lost cause?
I don’t think so, and here is what to do about it.
First of all, it’s vital that (from this point forward) you keep an open mind. For two reasons:
- If you have asked yourself the above question, then you must care about fixing the problem. If you didn’t, then you’d have consigned it to the ‘don’t give a crap’ box and moved onto some other challenge. So to fix the problem, you must consider opportunities to fix it before dismissing them outright.
- There is a chance that your boss doesn’t hate you, in fact, but rather that’s how you have interpreted his/her actions and behaviors towards you. To solve the problem, it’s crucial that you dump any baggage you have first.
If you haven’t yet read my posts ‘5 Reasons Why Your Boss Hates You ‘ and ‘The ‘mystery’ boss: why your bosses behavior may occasionally look strange ‘ then do so now, and then come back to this post. They provide you with great insights into the mind of the typical boss, and possibly suggest why you might be thinking your boss hates you.
Do you recognize any of the ‘crazy behaviors’ that you thought could be hatred towards you, but are possibly more benign? Or perhaps you did discover a reason why your boss thinks you’re a dufus?
If you’re still unclear as to why you suffer a sour relationship with your boss, then now is the time to find out. The best way forward is to understand what problems need to be fixed, and how they should be fixed.
I should just say that I’ve known some people to try to go around whatever problem there might be – most of the time not knowing what the problem is. What tends to happen is that they turn into a kiss-ass. In order to gain new found favor with their boss, they engage in a sickly-sweet charm offensive. You have probably seen other people do this too… or maybe even engaged in it yourself. The effect is often successful, but temporary. When two people don’t deal with their problems (just like in marriage I guess) then any phase of reconciliation is cut short when the problem re-surfaces. And when you don’t know what that problem is, then you’re doomed to repeat it.
So here’s the deal: you’ve got to deal with the source of the bad blood between you and your boss directly.
What If You Don’t Know the Source of the Problem?
What I’ve discovered is that I was most effective when I opened up the discussion with a question about the relationship. It’s about getting on the front foot by creating an opportunity for your boss to provide some feedback. I would ask something like “I’ve noticed that we haven’t agreed on things lately; am I letting you down in any way?” This question isn’t a confession, or an admission of guilt – it’s an avenue for your boss to open up to discuss the problem. This may be the magical question that brings out the source of the problem.
Failing that, I’ve also learned that an outright confrontation works too – but not an aggressive one. If I’ve had problems with my boss that I couldn’t fathom, I have found an opportunity to make an approach on neutral ground, such as the car park or cafe, and state that I have sensed a problem and that I would like to work it out.
Sometimes, this process takes a while. You see, in uncomfortable situations, people often lie. They lie to get out of the situation. Don’t take this personally, but don’t give up too.
So what you might find is that you only discover a part of the problem, or a symptom of the problem. What this means is that you will have to rectify the disclosed issue first (and prove you are serious about rectifying the relationship with your boss) and keep working at the relationship until all the problems have been heard.
The last resort concerns the fact that your boss has a duty to you to provide you with feedback on your performance and treat you fairly as they do their other subordinates. Not only is this a typical organizational policy, but in most countries it is law.
If you notice that your bosses actions look unfair, then you should ask why you were treated unfairly. This is a right you can be expected to exercise, and you should also expect to be given a straight answer
If you’re still not satisfied, then the only way forward is to approach your HR department, or if your organization doesn’t have a HR department, approach your bosses superior and explain the steps you have taken so far to attempt a reconciliation.
When You Know What the Problem Is…
This is a great situation to be in. The ball is in your court, and you should have a specific action to complete or behavior/personal trait you need to change.
The best approach is to take action, without delay. Your response demonstrates how serious you take the rectification. Slouching now will look bad on you, and possibly confirm to your boss why he/she developed bad feelings towards you in the first place.
Next important step is to provide regular updates to rectification activities, in person if you can. If the problem is behavioral then you will need to ask for feedback on the behavior. This is a good excuse to continue building your relationship. Don’t get defensive if the feedback doesn’t tell you that the problem has completely gone, but rather ask for advice on how to continue with the change.
If the source of the problem is personal then this is less straight forward. I once knew a guy who had major body-odor. Bluntly, he stank. His boss really didn’t like this, and made it personal. The relationship turned very sour… but his boss didn’t tell him what irked him because it was embarrassing. Eventually, the truth came out. The smelly guy did change his personal hygiene and the source of the problem went away.
History, and Baggage
I’ve mentioned so far that in order to reconcile with your boss, you need to lose your baggage. Once you’ve turned the corner and you’re dealing with the problems, this needs to persevere.
Truth is, you won’t really lose the baggage. Neither will your boss. The road to reconciliation is a long one, especially if nasty things were said or done before – folk don’t forget that.
Take the example above – the smelly chap – he didn’t just get over that. His experience was painfully embarrassing, and it took a while for him to get over that. Equally, the experience was painful for his boss. His boss wasn’t proud that he discriminated his smelly subordinate, and was also embarrassed by his behaviors. This wasn’t forgotten overnight.
Those initial days and weeks will be awkward, as you and your boss try to forget (and fail in the early days). It’s much like a scab on your skin: it’s easily opened up and it takes real guts and determination not to pick at it, no matter how frickin’ itchy it is.
Remember These Things…
- Unless you initiate a discussion to learn what the source of the problem is, then you won’t resolve it. This is where the open-mind comes in – get the conversation going with your boss without carrying any emotional baggage with you, and don’t assume anything. The early days of this process is shaky, and both you and your boss can easily read the wrong thing from what’s said.
- You’ll also be hearing the voices in your head and applying listening filters to the conversations with your boss. Most people want to hear the worst, because it confirms what they already knew and tells them ‘they were right’. It takes courage, but switch those voices off!
- When you’re getting the feedback from your boss, don’t be defensive! If you start defending your position on problems of the past, you’ll close down the conversation. Even if you believe your boss to be wrong, don’t fight back or you won’t rectify the situation.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine before the conversations with your boss. Being hyper-stimulated isn’t going to help. If you’re buzzing, you’ll appear nervous or distracted.
- Don’t use email. Period. Email is not an appropriate communication channel for dealing with relationship problems. Using the phone is OK, but discussing matters in person always works far better because it lets your body language communicate your desire to resolve the problem.
- When approaching your boss to talk, do it with a non-aggressive stance and don’t invade personal space – this is particularly important if you are tall (like myself, I am 6’4″).
- When faced with being forced to deal with problems that are painful, people can sometimes run for cover. So it’s got to be done at a pace that is not threatening or too painful – and this applies to you AND your boss.
Have You Had a Bad Relationship With Your Boss?
What was your story, and how did you rectify the situaiton? Have you got wisdom to share with us?