I hear this complaint all the time: “My boss hates me!” No doubt you’ve heard it too.
Maybe even said it.
So, first, let’s step back. Look at it less emotionally for a moment. Is the word “hate” actually true? Really? My experience is that true hatred is actually quite rare, but we use that word because of the extreme emotions that we’re experiencing inside.
Let’s pick something that’s a more accurate description:
- My boss does things I don’t understand.
- My boss doesn’t help me.
- My boss doesn’t explain things.
- My boss doesn’t appear to understand what I need.
- My boss doesn’t appear to care about me.
- My boss makes mistakes.
- My boss makes me less happy and productive.
Notice that these are worded to talk about the boss’s BEHAVIOR. We don’t really know what’s going on in his or her mind, so all we know is how things look from the outside. This is a critical distinction, because it changes your approach to addressing the issue. If you view your boss as the devil incarnate, then your best option is to run away as fast as possible. But if the boss sometimes ACTS devilishly, then there’s room to resolve the issue.
Hatred is an internal state we’re assuming, but we have to work on the behaviors that we’re seeing. By the way, this is also one of the core principles for managers to develop productive employees. It’s about human interaction.
Let’s pick one of these alternatives at random and see what happens when we examine it further. “My boss doesn’t appear to care about me.”
First, let’s just observe that we don’t know that the boss doesn’t ACTUALLY care about you, just that she’s not great at letting you know about it. There can be other explanations for why she might not display a caring attitude:
- She has an upbringing which taught her to be emotionally protective and distanced.
- She might think she’s communicating that she cares, but you expect something different.
- She may think that communicating emotion in your workplace is not an appropriate thing for a manager to do.
- She may be so busy that these kinds of “soft skills” have suffered due to other tasks.
- She might not understand what kind of caring attitude that you’d prefer.
- She may be covering a lot of internal stress she’s having, either at work or in her personal life. It’s hard for people to behave rationally in one area when another is in chaos.
We could go on, but you get the idea. But how do you know that you’re not just rationalizing her behavior? And what can you do about it?
You start by looking at other clues which might support or refute these alternatives. If she’s generally an “emotionally closed” person, then she’s going to exhibit this to most others as well, and she’s not going to be very emotive in most situations.
If she doesn’t understand how you’d like to interact with her, then perhaps you can try having a confidential conversation where you open up just a little more, exhibit a bit of empathy and honesty, and see how she responds.
That kind of discussion can also help when you’re “speaking a different language.” Pull together your courage, and talk about the communication issue itself. Be unemotional, thoughtful, and open. It’s quite likely there will be things you can do on your side to improve this relationship.
Being a manager is a tough job – I’ve been there. And I realize that the impression you’d like to give to your employees is often much different than what they actually think. People are complex, dynamic, and mysterious.
So give your boss a bit of a break, think it through more carefully, and try things which might help to improve your relationship.
Then if he turns out really to be the devil, just run away. Don’t sell your soul for the sake of this job.
by Carl Dierschow