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Getting Your Boss to Love You

By Marty Nemko

You hate your boss or you’re afraid he hates you. Or you’re just starting out with a new boss and want to get off to a good start. This plan maximizes the chances of you and your boss loving (platonically) each other.

Step 1: First, understand your boss. What does she care about? How does she communicate? What’s her interaction style? You’ve completed this step when you can write a paragraph about your boss at least as descriptive as this paragraph about me as a boss:

Time is a valuable commodity to Marty. That means he doesn’t like much chit-chat and—unless he specifies otherwise-- prefers tasks done well and quickly rather than perfectly but slowly. And when presenting an idea, give him a distillation. If he wants more detail, he’ll ask. He welcomes new ideas but not so many that they take up lots of his time.

Having trouble coming up with such a paragraph? Ask yourself where, on each of these continua, your boss falls:

1. Big picture vs. details

2. Direct versus indirect

3. Social versus not-social

4. Perfectionist versus good-enough is good enough.

5. Intellectual versus emotional

6. Results-oriented versus process-oriented

Step 2: Fully accept that your boss is your boss. Many of us resist authority, but fully accepting your role as your boss’s follower is key. Sure, some bosses are less worthy than their supervisees, but on average, they’re smarter, harder working, or more knowledgeable than their supervisees or they wouldn’t have been promoted over their peers.

Step 3: Focus on changing yourself, not your boss. It’s tough to change others; and it’s risky. The workplace battlefield is littered with employees who tried to change their micromanaging, lazy, disorganized, unavailable, haughty, and/or poor-communicating bosses. Focus on changing your attitude and the way you interact with your boss and you’ll reap better results with no risk.

Step 4: Solicit direction. Frequently ask your boss such questions as, “What would you like done? Anything of particularly high priority? What sorts of progress reports would you like?

If you’d like less (or more) supervision, ask for a trial period, for example, “As an experiment, could I tackle this project on my own? If you don’t like the result, you can supervise me more closely.”

Step 5: Present ideas wisely. Most bosses like employees who give occasional suggestions. Give too many and your boss may consider you too time-consuming or a know-it-all. Give too few and you’ll be viewed as not contributing much to the organization.

Present the ideas your boss is most likely to accept. Does he seem to appreciate technology fixes? People-managing tips? Profit builders? Ethical concerns? Ideas to boost his career? Of course, present your ideas in the way your boss will most likely prefer it: phone, e-mail, or in-person? Brief or detailed? Fact- or feeling-based? And phrase ideas in a way that preserves his self-esteem, for example, “I’m wondering if this might be a good idea. (Insert idea.) What do you think?”

Step 6: Solicit feedback. Frequently ask, “How am I doing?” So often, bosses, afraid of criticizing, withhold criticism—and then they terminate you. When criticized, of course, it’s tempting to lash back. Work hard to listen, really listen to the criticism. Do not, on-the-spot, disagree. Ask questions to better understand the criticism. Then, say thank you. Go away and, in private, think about it. If a day later, you still think the criticism was misguided, gently respond, for example, “I’ve given a lot of thought to what you said. I’m wondering if you had all the information. (Insert absolving information.) What do you think?”

Step 7: Suck up. Everyone likes praise, including your boss. When deserved, give it, and when in doubt, err on the side of flattery. Ronald Deluga of Bryant College studied 152 sets of supervisors and employees and found that employees who flattered their bosses got better evaluations.

Alas, sometimes, you can manage your boss perfectly and your life is still miserable. Often that occurs, frankly, because you’re not a good employee. To find out, be brave and get a 360-degree evaluation: ask boss, co-workers, supervisees, and perhaps customers for a candid appraisal. But if your boss is disliked by most employees, it’s probably not you. It may be time to start looking for a boss you can love.

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