Love them or hate them, bosses are kind of a big deal for your career development. And whether you adore your boss or dread meeting with her, paying attention to the dynamics of your relationship can provide insights that help you positively inform future exchanges. For example, you might be sabotaging your interactions without even realizing it.
The first step to identifying any detrimental habits and building a positive relationship with your boss is a mindset shift, according to leadership and career coach Garen Jemian. “People and organizations pay us to solve a problem for them. They pay us for the desired outcome. You need to change your mindset from being an employee to being a professional paid to deliver desired results,” he says.
“Shifting your mindset about your role allows you to shift your mindset about your boss. Your boss is exactly like you — nothing more than a professional paid to deliver desired results. A business is nothing more than people working together towards a common vision. Not bosses and employees, but people.”
So what does Jemian recommend in terms of actionable tips for improving your relations with your boss? For starters, stop using the term boss and start seeing the relationship as a collaboration. Also, watch out for the four habits below — they are instant saboteurs.
Be brutally honest with yourself: Do you have a tendency to become passive-aggressive when resentment builds up? While cracking sarcastic jokes in team meetings or gossiping might feel cathartic in the moment, that kind of behavior is super detrimental in the long run. If you recognize yourself, you’re certainly not alone — Jemian says it’s one of the most common traps professionals fall into.
“When a negative event occurs, rather than expressing themselves clearly, objectively and setting their boundaries, they often absorb the negativity and express it indirectly,” he says. “Eventually the employee ends up in disengagement where the probable outcome is that they either quit, get fired or, worse, end up being one of those punch-in-punch-out people who hate their jobs, which affects their personal lives as well.”
Subtly negative communication
On that note, bottled-up and unresolved negative feelings can also subtly make their way into your direct communications with your boss and destroy your relationship one conversation at a time. “Passive-aggressive communication can be extremely subtle. So subtle in fact that the person may not even notice they’re doing it. It’s detrimental because they lack self-awareness and don’t realize that they’re destroying their career one negative expression at a time,” says Jemian.
Watch out for moments when you try to allude to something that is bothering you without addressing the issue head-on, since that’s when your language can become passive-aggressive and you risk sounding negative without even realizing it.
A lack of assertiveness
Harmful habits can be about what you don’t do. A lack of assertiveness is not only a slow career killer, but it can also sabotage your interactions with your boss. “Assertiveness is not easy. It takes mindfulness, a conscious effort, courage, technique and tons of practice. The idea is to express your needs while taking the other’s point of view into consideration. Easier said than done, especially when speaking to someone of authority,” says Jemian.
In order to give yourself the courage to be more assertive (especially when it comes to having tough conversations), remind yourself that beating around the bush can create more harm than good. And keep in mind that voicing your opinions in a constructive, direct way helps you come across as a leader instead of a complainer.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone who clearly wasn’t into it? It’s not pleasant to be on the receiving end of a one-sided interaction. And your boss can definitely pick up on moments when you are not engaged. Over time, low engagement can translate into being passed over for promotions and other career-building opportunities.
Avoid finding yourself in that situation by aiming to be fully present in each one of your interactions with your boss. Stay curious and demonstrate active listening. “Great interactions start with trust and respect. From there, it requires the development of communication competencies such as unshakeable presence and engagement, active listening, asking powerful questions and applying deep curiosity,” says Jemian.