Hoping that your new boss likes you (and vice-versa) is totally normal. But what if your relationship doesn’t start off on the right foot? And what if, even worse, your boss doesn’t seem to be fond of you?
“We generally spend a third of our lives at work. Not having a positive relationship with our boss can significantly impact our quality of life in a negative way,” says leadership expert Patrick Veroneau, M.S.
Plus, having a good relationship with your boss is crucial when it comes to career advancement. “If your intention is to be eligible for development or promotion opportunities, having a boss who looks favorably towards you is often an important prerequisite.”
So it’s a pretty big deal if your boss doesn’t like you. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do about it. The first step is assessing the situation, says Veroneau: “Understanding what can create a bad situation with a boss as well as knowing what can prevent it from happening provides the employee with the hope and confidence that there are things they can do.
Here are five subtle signs to look out for if you suspect that your boss dislikes you. And if you do recognize those signs, don’t panic just yet — we’ve also included constructive action steps to turn the situation around.
1. Being ignored
Does your boss seem to avoid lingering for informal chats with you?
Limited contact is a telltale sign that the set-up-to-fail syndrome, a destructive boss-employee relationship dynamic identified by Harvard Business Review and used by Veroneau in his work, is in full swing.
This dynamic is set in motion when a boss starts to worry about an employee’s performance. The boss increases pressure and supervision yet emotionally pulls away, which can have an effect on the subordinate’s engagement. It’s a vicious cycle and self-fulfilling prophecy that reinforces the boss’ bias around the person’s perceived underperformance and further disengages the employee.
So if your boss ignores your messages or cancels meetings with you on a regular basis but only reaches out to pressure you about tasks, she may not like you.
2. Being micromanaged
Micromanagement can also be a telltale sign of the set-up-to-fail syndrome:
“The boss then takes what seems like the obvious action in light of the subordinate’s perceived shortcomings: he increases the time and attention he focuses on the employee. He requires the employee to get approval before making decisions, asks to see more paperwork documenting those decisions, or watches the employee at meetings more closely and critiques his comments more intensely,” wrote HBR researchers Jean-François Manzoni and Jean-Louis Barsoux in their study.
3. Being questioned about your work
If your boss is starting to ask you questions about how you spend your time on projects or if you have a weird feeling she is probing you with trick questions, it’s possible that she is not a fan of yours.
Being questioned can indicate an underlying lack of trust. And it’s impossible to have positive relationships without trust. While there is no need to be on edge every time your boss asks you a simple high-level question about a deliverable, you do wanna pay attention to questions that are more pointed and persistent.
4. Being overlooked for assignments
“A boss who asks for your opinion, praises regularly and provides opportunities to develop and grow is often demonstrating that they like you,” says Veroneau.
And the opposite is also true: If you are continuously assigned routine tasks and never offered larger responsibilities or new challenges, it’s likely that your boss dislikes you enough not to invest in your career development.
5. Being treated differently than others
In an ideal world, there would be no cliques at work. But, unfortunately, some corporate cultures are more political than others and you might even notice members of the leadership team blatantly excluding people from their in-crowd.
According to the HBR research mentioned above, up to 90% of all bosses treat some subordinates as though they were part of an in-group, while they consign others to an out-group.
So if your boss seems to be super nice to other coworkers but ice-cold towards you, you’re not necessarily being paranoid.
What to do if your boss doesn’t like you
So you’ve concluded it’s highly likely your boss doesn’t like you. Now what?
“When individuals are presented with the science behind building positive relationships with their bosses, they are able to realize they have the ability to positively manage their managers,” says Veroneau.
“Too many employees feel helpless when experiencing a boss that doesn’t seem to like them. This can create a great deal of stress for the employee and further impact their relationship with the boss in a negative way.”
If you think that your relationship with your boss has been set off on a downwards spiral but you’re not sure why, then assess whether you could be caught in the set-up-to-fail syndrome dynamic identified by HBR.
When did things with your boss change for the worse? Has she started micromanaging you and ignoring you socially? Are you feeling undervalued and underappreciated and, as a result, increasingly disengaged?
“The employee has to recognize the relevance of the set-up-to-fail syndrome. When they recognize this process, they can work to identify where the relationship with a boss may have gone off track,” says Veroneau.
From there, Veroneau recommends booking a meeting with your boss to understand what she needs from you to make the working relationship positive.
“While it may seem risky, it can also be helpful for the employee to express that they want a better relationship with their manager and would like to know what the manager would need to make that possible.”
You can also take matters into your own hands by influencing your boss’ perception of you through kind, positive gestures.
A study published in The Leadership Quarterly concluded that ingratiation (the act of influencing someone to like you) combined with positive affect (your propensity to experience positive emotions) in the face of job tension can help neutralize a toxic boss.
“An example of ingratiation may involve complimenting the manager for something they have done or it might involve doing a favor for the manager,” says Veroneau.
Dealing with a boss who doesn’t like you is not pleasant. So for your own sake and well-being, remember to focus on nourishing your self-confidence no matter what ends up happening. That way, you won’t let one bad experience carry its effects further than needed in your career.