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Making Nice with the Boss Tips

Posted on 21 September 2008

You got the job, and now must come to terms with the possibility that the person who interviewed you may be markedly different than the person supervising you — even if they are the same person. In the interview, you were (tactfully, of course) trying to convince the interviewer to do something — namely, hire you. Now you’re on the receiving end, and need to back up all of the claims you made in the interview. So goes employment…

For those fortunate enough to have actually been interviewed by the person they’d be working under, the character study is already in progress; for those less fortunate, there is work to be done.

Who are we dealing with here?

What kind of boss do you have? Will you be expected to generate your own ideas and offer feedback? Or will you be expected to grovel in fear and kowtow to his/her every whim — to the letter? You’ll be able to figure this out almost immediately, though you’ll need to remain sensitive to the evolving nature of the boss/bossed relationship. While you may be expected initially to follow instructions closely, that may simply be a way for your boss to determine your ability to follow orders and capably perform your duties. After that initial test, you may be given more latitude to speak up and take ownership of larger projects.

Study your boss: habits, sense of humor, pet peeves, mood swings, clothing, facial expressions and general managerial style are all to be taken into account. Study his/her reactions to your work. What is the ideal form of communication? Phone calls, emails, conversations? Observe (or even ask) your boss to find out.

Above all, as much as you’d like to avoid any glaring errors early on in a new job, it’s essential that you use a trial-and-error approach when feeling out the scene.

Bad bosses?

A bad boss would be one who lets his or her feelings, ambitions, biases or insecurities impede his/her employees’ ability to do their jobs to the fullest of their potential. A bad boss can be abusive, skittish or anything in between. There is no hard and fast way of dealing with them (that doesn’t involve a shark tank and a gallon of chum), so you’ll need to be very perceptive. If they’re domineering and rely on abuse as a motivational tactic, you may be expected to take the abuse and play the part of the sycophant, or you may be expected to fight back, to win the boss’ respect. Study his/her reactions to each approach, and then develop a strategy.

Of course, the boss could merely be a horribly unhappy and insecure person whose only joy is derived from torturing those paid to take it with a smile. In that case, well, take it or leave it.

Other bad bosses could include the skittish, ineffectual type, who is petrified of taking risks or standing up to the powers-that-be, or the straight up incompetent type. For the former, you’ll need to subtly urge the boss forward, without making him/her too uncomfortable — as that is what he/she is intent on avoiding. For the incompetent boss, a similar technique is in order. Remember, if your end is to make the boss look good, he/she has no cause to resist.

The employer/employee contract

The dynamic between employees and supervisors hinges on an unspoken “you make me look good, I’ll promote you” contract (provided it doesn’t involve fraud, and it does benefit the company). While some bosses may hire you to challenge the department, they will not be hiring you to humiliate them, gloatingly point out their mistakes or go over their heads when you don’t get the response you want. There is a precarious balance to be kept. Oddly enough, the best way to get promoted is to swallow outward signs of self-interest and set to making the boss look better. If you do so sufficiently, you’ll soon be in a position to have an underling make you look even better.

How do you make an employer look good without completely prostituting yourself? Firstly, do your work well. Secondly, find something that will make the entire department more productive or efficient than they were before your arrival. Find a way to cut costs, up productivity, improve morale or increase profits. This may be easier than it seems because workers who have spent a lot of time in one place become so accustomed to things working a certain way that they don’t even notice an opportunity for improvement.

Remember, you were hired because someone thought you’d be able to make things better than they were previously. So do so, and everyone should be happy.

Self-awareness, please

Don’t expect your boss to keep track (or even notice) of your accomplishments. He/she has many other things to deal with, and hopefully assumes you can capably perform your duties without a close eye and guiding hand.

So to save time, and to make sure you’re getting your due credit, keep a running record of your accomplishments, progress and observations. Compare your job description with your day-to-day work, that way you’ll develop a more thorough understanding of your job and its relation to everyone else. Plus, when your review comes around, you’ll be fully armed.

On that note, don’t be afraid to tell the boss what you’re working on from time to time; don’t be an annoyance, just tactfully let him/her know by working it into a question or a conversation.

Play your cards right and in no time you’ll have underlings of your own to treat as you see fit.

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Holly says:

    This is a really great post! I especially like your idea of keeping track of your accomplishments, progress and observations and also comparing them with your job description to see if you are on track. I work for a staffing company in Boston, Hollister Staffing (www.hollisterstaff.com) and am going to start recommending this to some of my clients that I have already found jobs for. Being able to manage yourself is very important, and I think this is a great way to do so. Thanks again!

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