“The relationship has a big impact on the trajectory of your career,” said Dana Brownlee, author of “The Unwritten Rules of Managing Up.” “It’s hard to be successful when your boss isn’t your biggest advocate.”
After all, your manager has the power to promote or fire you, speak up for you or assign you high-profile projects.
So how can you turn it around if you and your boss don’t get along?
Don’t play the victim
If you’re having issues with your boss, don’t walk around the office lamenting your woes.
“It will spiral on you,” said Steve Arneson, author of “What Your Boss Really Wants from You.” Complaining to your peers hurts your brand and could eventually make its way back to your boss and damage the relationship even further.
“You have to be careful not to gossip or spread the story that the boss is out to get you, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said.
We all have different working styles, and it’s ideal when both managers and employees are flexible to meet each others’ needs.
“You need to take more responsibility for the relationship than they do,” said Arneson. “You need to go at least 51% of the way. You don’t have to do 90% of work, but you better have the attitude of taking responsibility of the relationship and not leave it to them.”
For instance, some bosses have an open-door policy while others prefer you set up an appointment before walking into their office. Some want to be heavily involved in every project while other bosses take a more hands-off approach.
“I didn’t like it when a boss wanted to meet 10 times on a 20-page deck, but I had to go with it. I had to accept that,” said Arneson.
Brownlee said there are two types of workers: task-focused and relationship-focused. Task-focused workers don’t want a lot of chitchat upfront and just want to get down to work, while relationship-focused people tend to be open to more conversation before getting started.
“You want to adjust to what it is they need and the type of person they are,” she said.
Pay attention to when the boss is giving kudos to get a better sense of what appeals to them.
“Bosses talk about qualities in others they admire or like,” said Arneson. Pay attention to what behaviors get rewarded and punished and ask detailed follow-up questions when they talk about someone in a positive way to get clues on what they’re looking for. “Then you can lean toward those qualities a little more.”
Find common ground
If you don’t seem to click with your boss, look for authentic points of commonality to bond over.
“People gravitate to people who have the same enthusiasm about things they care about,” said Brownlee.
Look around the boss’ office or pay attention to their weekend recaps to get possible clues on what interests you might share.
It can be as simple as similar hobbies, children around the same age, being from the same hometown or rooting for the same sports team.
“I remember bonding with a guy because we had a similar commute,” said Brownlee. “That became a springboard to other things.”
Help clear their plate
Your boss likely has a long to-do list that keeps getting longer. So instead of being a worker who keeps adding to the list, be proactive by helping to tick things off.
For instance, if your boss mentions a big project in a meeting, Brownlee recommended sending over ideas on how you can help.
“Making their life easier and taking things off their plate … that is really something that makes a huge difference in how you relate to them.”
Learn from insiders
If you’re outside the boss’s inner circle, try to figure out who’s on the inside and ask them for advice on how to break in.
“Tell them that you are trying to build a good relationship with [the boss] and ask for any pointers. A lot of times those people will open up and give you tidbits with what will and will not work,” said Brownlee.
Don’t force it
Building a good rapport with your boss can take time, especially when you’re trying to repair a damaged one — but you can’t always force it.
Give the relationship some time to build and try to let it happen organically.
“Pick some opportunities to participate in events that you know the boss will be there. That gives you an opportunity to be in their space,” Brownlee said.