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How to Manage Your Relationship With Your Boss

Feb 17, 2022

In my executive coaching practice, one of the most requested subjects that clients want help with is dealing with their own boss.  These may be conflicts of style, personality clashes or misunderstandings that have spiraled over time.  This can be especially frustrating for a person who prides themselves as someone who gets along with all types of people.

Think about some of the conflicts that occur in your own organization between people at different levels.  What is it about these relationships that makes it so challenging? 

Here are some of the most common problems I see:

First of all, there is the normal challenge of communication between two people:  There is what you think you said, what you actually said, what the other person heard, what you think the other person heard, what the other person thinks about what you said and what you think the other person thinks about what you said.  No wonder clear communication between two people is so difficult!

Additionally, leaders are sometimes reluctant to ask questions or seek clarification about directions they have been given because they don’t want to appear incompetent.  So, they make assumptions about what is expected.  And a misunderstanding ensues.

Working with people on this issue reminds me of a saying I learned a long time ago:  Communication is the response that you get.  Think about what that means.  Think about the leaders in your organization who believe they give clear direction and set clear expectations, only to be disappointed or frustrated by the results they get.  Maybe they didn’t check to make sure the other person heard what they thought they said. (see paragraph 3)

When you have done a good job at managing the overall relationship with your boss, it becomes easier to get individual exchanges and transactions right.  When you have a good relationship, it’s easier to admit you don’t understand, ask for clarification, or check for mutual understanding.  Of course, this is a two-way street, but you still need to take 100% responsibility for your part.

So, here is what I advise: 

  1. Learn to set your ego aside. In any given exchange, be willing to be vulnerable, admit you don’t understand and ask questions until you are both on the same page.
  2. Make a bigger effort to understand your boss’s priorities and goals.   Listen.  Watch.  Make her priorities your priorities.  This is not being political; it’s being smart.
  3. Find out how you can best support team and organizational objectives. Don’t assume here.  Clarity is your friend.  Know what is expected so you can always begin with the end in mind and deliver the desired result.
  4. Be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Be willing to challenge the status quo.  When you have an issue or complaint, offer some options or alternatives. 
  5. Resist the urge to badmouth your boss and the organization. If you are truly unhappy, leave.  If not, be proactively and vocally supportive.  Especially in communicating with your own team – and your peers.

For leaders in any organization, it’s important to remember that each of us has a unique perspective.  No one sits where you sit, with the experiences you bring and the view that you have.  That point of view is valuable to your boss, and having a strong relationship enables you to leverage strengths and perspectives from each other.

Difficult relationships with the boss can be frustrating and upsetting, even stressful.  Many people who experience conflict with the boss take it home with them, and so, it may impact family life as well.

Healthy, strong relationships take time, energy, and attention.  In the long run, they make for a more satisfying work environment, greater productivity, and greater results.

When leaders in an organization have different styles, it may lead to unhealthy conflict. When leaders learn to respect, value, and leverage their different styles, they can engage in productive debate about key issues of importance.  This generates greater buy-in and commitment so that everyone is working toward – and accountable for – the overall desired result.

I help leaders build cohesive, fully engaged, high performing teams so that their organizations can create the kind of competitive advantage that is difficult for their competitors to replicate.  If you would like to know more about how to do this in your organization, let’s have a conversation.

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