My Boss Doesn’t Like Me: Workplace Survival Skills

Many of us can say we’ve experienced this unsettling feeling. Sometimes it’s just that—a feeling. But there are times when employees have some real cause for concern about how the boss regards them. Let’s think about what indications you might see that could lead you to believe there may be a problem, and what steps you can take to address the issues.

There are meetings you are not invited to. There is information you don’t seem to receive. Decisions are made without your input. If these are meetings you used to attend, or data you used to be copied on, or decisions you used to have input to, you may well have cause for concern. Your immediate reaction may be to feel defensive, hurt, or angry. Probably the last thing you want to do is discuss what appears to be your slip in status. But that’s exactly what you have to do.

Make a formal appointment with your manager for at least an hour block of time. Don’t take no for an answer on this one. Insist on a meeting. If your manager asks what the purpose of the meeting is to be, your response should be something like, “to discuss my contribution to your goals,” or “to update you on my activities and make sure I’m on the right track,” or simply, “to address some concerns I have about work-place issues.”

Your next step, once a meeting is scheduled, is to do your homework. Assemble factual information which supports your concerns, and be sure you can explain the issues clearly. Keep your presentation simple, keep it factual, and make every attempt to keep it stated in such a way that will not put your audience on the defensive. Consider the difference in these two approaches:

1. I’ve noticed that I am no longer invited to our Wednesday status meetings. I am concerned that this may mean my contributions may have been inappropriate or sub-standard. Could you explain why I am no longer invited to these meetings?

2. You don’t invite me to the Wednesday status meetings any more, and I want to know why.

The first approach is stated in such a way that the problem or the challenge belongs to the employee, not the manager. Yet it does get to the point and let the manager know that the employee has work-related concerns about this turn of events. The second approach is not a very well concealed attack upon the manager. You can almost hear, “How dare you exclude me!” in the background. If you were the manager, which approach would likely elicit a constructive response from you? In the first instance, you give your manager the opening to say, “Well, John decided that we should limit the number of people attending to only the department heads. I know I’ll still need your input on the issues that arise. We should discuss these in staff meeting each week.” The second approach certainly won’t give the manager room to respond this way, even if this is the actual explanation.

The explanation for what you are feeling or experiencing is not always as simple as the previous example. There may actually be some perceived short-fall in your performance. Your initial approach should be the same. You should factually and unemotionally state what you have observed, and ask about it. You may find that your management actually is displeased with your performance. Now you have a decision to make. The relationship between an employee and his manager is extremely complicated. The manager may not actually know what he wants. The employee may not know what the manager wants. The employee may not have the skill-sets the manager thought he had. The employee may simply not fit into the culture of the workplace in questions. So how do you sort all this out?

If there is a perceived performance shortfall, you need to think about why there is a performance shortfall. First, would you agree that most people want to do a good job at work? With limited exceptions, this is probably true. So if someone is NOT doing a good job, there are some concrete reasons why. First possibility, the employee has the skills, but does not understand the expectations of the job. Secondly, the employee understands the expectations, but simply does not possess the skill sets required to do the job. And he may or may not be aware of this shortfall in his skills! Finally, you may occasionally encounter employees who have the skill sets, but simply refuse to do what’s expected of them. Fortunately, the first two conditions are far more common than the last one.

As an employee whose contributions are being questioned, do some honest soul-searching. Do you possess the skill-sets needed? Are you sure? Do you understand what’s expected? Are you sure? If you are in the last category, where you have the skills but simply refuse to do the work, you are in the wrong place. Do you and your employer a favor and quit your job! It’s simply the wrong place for you. Leave on good terms, and find a place you belong.

Now, let’s go back to the first two conditions. Again, these are:

  • You have the skills, but no clear direction as to what to do.
  • You understand what you are expected to do, but are not sure you have the skills to meet the challenges of your assignments.

Think for a moment from the other side of the fence. If you were the manager, and you had an employee who, for some reason, was not meeting expectations, it would cause you some considerable concern. You have work that needs to be done. You hate the idea of re-training a new hire, not to mention the difficult prospect of terminating someone. Can you see that your manager may well welcome your request for a frank meeting? Of course he will! He wants this problem to go away at least as much as you do.

If you present the situation as being one of the two conditions above, you and your manager have a solid place to start. He may be genuinely unaware that you don’t understand his expectations, and he will be greatly relieved to clear them up for you. He may also not know that you need a little more direction, some skill polishing, or some other assistance. Just think how relieved you both will be to see your way forward! So don’t put off this discussion as difficult. Consider it for what it is—-an essential.

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