Starting a new job always comes with a few unexpected challenges. One that is especially hard to navigate is a strained relationship with your new boss. What should you do if you realize you’re just not getting along? Start by diagnosing the problem. In this piece, the author lists a few reasons why there might be tension and offers advice for how to mitigate the relationship.
It’s such a relief when you start a job and you immediately click with your new boss. But what if the opposite is true? What if you’re a few months into your new position and you realize that you and your boss just aren’t meshing well together? What should you do then?
Start by diagnosing the problem. Here are a few reasons why your relationship might be strained and few things you can try to help mitigate the relationship.
You are more conscientious.
One aspect of personality that can cause difficulties involves the trait of conscientiousness, which reflects your motivation to complete the tasks you start well and to follow rules. You may feel that your boss is piling too many tasks on you. If you are more conscientious than your boss, you may try to polish each task you’re given to a high gloss. As a result, you may be spending too much time on each task you’re given relative to what your boss wants.
It is important to find out your boss’s expectations for the level of perfection that is expected for particular tasks. That will help you to calibrate the amount of effort that is needed for assignments and may help you deal with a long to-do list.
You are more of a people-pleaser.
Another characteristic that can cause problems is agreeableness, which reflects how motivated you are to get along with others. If you are more agreeable than your boss, they may not always provide you with feedback that makes you feel welcome at work. Consequently, you may have concerns that your boss doesn’t like you.
It is important to pay attention to how your boss treats everyone. If they are not that warm, then focus on feedback you get about your performance rather than on the interpersonal interactions you have.
You differ in how you approach new opportunities.
A third characteristic that can cause problems is openness to experience, which reflects your orientation to new things. People who are open are motivated to check out and embrace new opportunities, while those who are closed find reasons to avoid new approaches.
When you and your boss differ a lot in openness, then one of you is probably pushing the other to think about things in a new way, while the other is resisting this urge. When your boss is less open than you are, it is valuable to inform your boss about new approaches or opportunities well in advance of when you need a decision in order to give your boss a chance to get comfortable with the novelty of the situation before having to evaluate it.
Your boss doesn’t help you prioritize.
If you have a mismatch between what you think you should be doing and what your boss thinks you should be doing, then you are likely to get negative feedback about your performance despite your efforts because you are working on the “wrong” things.
In this case, you’ll want to bring your to-do list to your check-ins so you can walk through it together to determine which tasks are most important (and to amplify what I wrote earlier, which tasks need your best effort).
Your boss is more reactive than strategic.
What should you do if your boss communicates about priorities, but the thing deemed most important shifts from day-to-day? This pattern often happens when your boss is reactive to events rather than strategic. This roller-coaster can be difficult to ride because you are never sure what you are supposed to be doing on any given day.
It can be valuable to have frequent check-ins with a boss whose priorities shift so that you can determine whether there are new areas where you should be making progress.
You aren’t getting the feedback you need.
This can be particularly problematic when your boss is very agreeable. Because agreeable people want to be liked, they often have difficulty giving direct negative feedback, because they feel as though they will not be liked when they criticize. When this happens, you may get the sense that your boss is displeased with your performance without any specific statements about what you should do differently.
In this case, it is important to ask specific questions about your work to elicit the feedback you need to improve. The benefit of this approach is that as your agreeable boss realizes that you take constructive criticism well, your boss will often be better able to offer it without being asked.
. . .
It is worth remembering that you don’t need to really like your boss to like your job. If your work environment is stable and you get along with at least a few of your colleagues, it is okay if you and your boss are not people who would hang out together. You still may learn a lot from watching how your boss navigates their tasks. Focus on what makes them successful and take those lessons with you when you step into your own leadership role.
One final note: The discussion here assumes that your boss isn’t doing anything inappropriate for the workplace. If you have a boss who yells or otherwise creates a hostile work environment or harasses you, you need to address that with human resources right away. You should not be trying to navigate those situations on your own.