While you might wish those days where a popularity contest mattered are over, the hard, cold truth is that being liked by those above you may make or break your career. As New York career coach, Carlota Zimmerman explains, likability can determine your life.
“From shopping to dating, whether it’s getting a good deal on your dream home, or student loans, getting upgraded on a plane, to receiving faster care at the ER, likable people tend to move to the front of the line,” she says. “You want your boss to like you, since she’s the one determining who will get the opportunities necessary to achieve their career potential, and goals. You want your boss to like you, so that when she’s planning to attend that huge industry conference in Shanghai, she picks you to join her in first class. You want your boss to like you, so that when sh*t gets real–as the young people say–she can go to bat for you.”
To make sure you’re putting your friendliest foot forward, avoid these blunders that might make your boss wish someone else was doing your job.
You give your boss a lot to manage
Unless you’re at the top of the totem pole or standing atop that glass ceiling at your own company, part of your role will always mean making your manager’s life easier. And while asking questions is part of learning and advancing your career, the more time your boss has to spend holding your hand, the more frustrated he or she might become.
“Your boss has a lot on their plate, and they don’t have time to constantly babysit you. Micromanaging is not fun for anyone, and though most employees say they don’t like being micro-managed, if you’re a lot of work, your boss probably feels like they have to use this method to get work done,” explains career coach Colene Elridge.
Instead of constantly asking for reassurance, smart employees figure it out, or come to the boss with a succinct description of the problem and potential solutions. If you find it tough to resist the urge to ping your boss several times a day, Elridge suggest finding a coach or a mentor outside of your office to build your confidence.
“Gain the skills you need to more effectively do your job. Then find a mentor that can help guide you through your career. Mentors are great at helping you grow and develop,” Elridge says.
You fake it and don’t produce results
Congrats! You earned an awesome promotion or finally got the lead spot for a project you wanted to spear.
But now, the pressure is on: dropping the ball after a career growth moment can quickly make your boss doubt his or her decision. Though faking-it-until-you-make-it can work in certain cases, if you’re throwing around fancy terms and answers, without actually understanding your responsibilities, you might make a big mess for your boss to clean up.
“I can’t tell you the number of organizations I’ve worked with who have employees who don’t do their jobs. Meaning, they do everything but produce results. Some blame falls squarely on the organization for not properly engaging their employees, but some falls on the individual. When you make the choice to not do your job, you make your boss have to work harder, and that’s a key way to make them not like you. You were hired to do a job. Whatever the job is, there are expected results, and when you don’t produce those results, there’s a problem,” Elridge says.
Many people can stagnate for years at this level of middle management because they never learn how to stop bossing people and start leading people.
How do you start to grow as professional, in a meaningful, impactful way? Elridge says it’s a slippery slope that might require some soul-searching to figure out why you’re working where you’re working, and what might be keeping you from being less than motivated. From there, baby steps are key.
“If you don’t like the work, consider a career change. If you’re just in a bit of a slump, pull yourself together and set a deadline. Momentum changes things. When you see yourself complete a project or task, you build more momentum to do better work,” she adds.
You’re not straightforward about things that don’t work
No matter if it’s your dream job or just a starter gig to get you to the company you truly want to work for, there are going to be issues that arrive in every workplace. Though ultimately, it’s your manager’s responsibility to address workflows, teams or programs that simply aren’t working, it’s also part of your role to flag miscommunication or difficulties you’re having. Why? When something goes wrong, productivity is the first to suffer.
“Any good workplace knows how to handle conflict. A workplace without conflict resolution skills is a recipe for chaos. It is not uncommon that people lack conflict resolution skills. Avoidance is not a tactic. Conflict will happen, and though it can be uncomfortable, it’s not always a bad thing. If you’re the type of person who avoids conflict or stirs up conflict in your office, my guess is your boss may not like you,” Elridge says.
Here’s where it’s essential to put your creative thinking hat on by figuring out what’s causing the trouble and how you might suggest fixing the issue to your boss. Approach your manager with a solution – not just a complaint – and let them take the reins from there.
You don’t impress him
Usually the boss’s least favorite people are the ones who punch in the clock and contribute no more than they have to. Or they ask for more responsibility, but when asked to see a project through to the end, make excuses as to why they can’t.
The bottom line: Promotable employees go above and beyond. So if you’re not taking ownership for your own career path, why would you expect your boss to guide you along a highlighted, trackable path?
Worst of all, if your boss has stopped coming to you because he knows he can’t count on you, you’re definitely not going anywhere in the company.
“There’s only so many hours in the work day, and if your boss starts rolling her eyes, since she’s just done with your ‘discussions about why a project isn’t’ finished’…you’re in trouble. You want your boss to identify you as someone who solves problems, whom she can count on, not as someone who makes her life harder,” Zimmerman says. “Working in an office, making deadlines, keeping a business on track is difficult enough. When you consider that people have their own lives, with partners, children, mortgages, parents, Netflix queues, you begin to realize that very few good managers want any unnecessary stress in the office.”
Instead of doing the bare minimum and offloading the rest to your boss, consider why you’re feeling disconnected. “Your issues may be legitimate, but if they are making it difficult to get work done, if they’re contributing to a tense corporate environment, you and your issues may need to look for a new job,” Zimmerman suggests.
You make it all about you
Bosses have to oversee teams, and the employee who is always trying to focus attention on themselves is a distraction to cooperation. Derailing team discussions to talk about your own goals, dominating planning, and refusing to see the bigger picture of team progress rather than your own are all manifestations of this attitude.
While this type of self-first behavior might make you feel like a powerful executive at first, it doesn’t do much to build a relationship with your co-workers, or more importantly, your boss.
This applies on a personal level too: when other people are talking, listen. You might not be interested in hearing about their random trip to the Finger Lakes, but it’s in your best interest to listen, anyway, as a way to show respect for their experiences.
Consider this: people you work with have to spend a minimum of eight hours a day with you. Wouldn’t they prefer someone who is pleasant to spend that time with?
“People want to work with people that they like, not just people who are competent. Make an effort to develop a good working relationship with your boss. This does not necessarily mean that you always have to go out to lunch together. But it does mean that you should try to create a spirit of camaraderie between you,” Zimmerman adds.
You refuse to do simple tasks
Making copies? Creating a spreadsheet? Sending notes post-budget-planning meeting? Under no circumstances should you break any ethical standards for a boss, but for routine requests, the answer should always be — as far as you can swing it — ‘yes.’
You might not find all of his or her tasks to be necessary, but your role is helping your higher-ups to meet deadlines and goals, so it’s worth your effort. If you don’t do it – or do it poorly – you not only make yourself look bad, but the team, too.
“Years ago, I had a client who, on the first day of her new job, was given a detail-oriented project. She didn’t do it. Not only did she not do the project, she spent time that could have been used to make her deadline, writing out a long letter of excuses and apologies. Needless to say, her management was furious…and within two months, that new job was only an old memory,” Zimmerman says. “You may not understand the reason for the deadline, you may disagree with it, but if you’re really trying to climb the ladder, make the deadline.”
If you’re actually strapped for time and can’t do a deep-dive into data before 6 p.m.?
Don’t just cross your arms and refuse to do something. Show you can think strategically. Instead of saying, ‘I can’t do that,’ and expect the boss to fix it, instead point to facts and numbers and make a case for another way: ‘Because our budget can’t cover this right now, it’s a challenge to get this project done. Have we considered hiring an intern or distributing the workload among other teams? Here’s how that would work.’
You refuse to understand the struggle of bureaucracy
In very few cases does management responsibility mean snapping your fingers and getting what you want. Managing takes maneuvering. Being a boss is very often a matter of managing bureaucracy to get things done. Some bosses are good at it, and some are terrible. But what’s never helpful is an employee who’s constantly talking down the company or asking why something hasn’t already happened by now, exactly the way that employee wants it.
“You can create major headaches for your boss and everyone else on the job if you don’t understand bureaucracy. As frustrating as dealing with bureaucracy can be, there is a certain protocol that is expected, and if you try to bypass the workings of bureaucracy in order to get things done, you will ruffle feathers along the way,” explains career coach Cheryl Palmer. “Your boss will probably take the heat because of your bad decisions. This in turn will affect how the boss perceives you. The best thing to do is to learn how the bureaucracy works and work within the system.”
Not everyone is cut out for corporate world though, Palmer notes. If you can’t see yourself conforming to the bureaucracy, she suggests looking for a job in a small company where there isn’t as much bureaucracy to deal with – or working for yourself.
You make your boss look bad
Just like you, bosses like to look good in front of their bosses. If you do a good job, they look good. But if you undermine your boss by badmouthing them unreasonably to teammates or their own bosses, they usually find out, and they see you as a problem.
“A few years ago, a friend of mine was going through a rough patch in her life. She confided in a friend of hers, an attorney who owned a successful small practice, and he hired her, on a part-time basis, to help him out in the office. Sounds great, right? It was, except my friend simply couldn’t stop herself from biting the hand that fed her. Whatever the boss said, she had to correct him, or one-up him, or simply make it clear to him that he might be a well-to-do lawyer, but she had a Master’s degree, and he owed her respect,” Zimmerman shared. “After two weeks, all his compassion had drained away, and the next time she corrected him, he came down came the ax.”
There might be times when you don’t agree with your employer or you think you could do a better job than him or her, but as Zimmerman says: your boss is the boss and he or she is charge.
If you can’t bite your tongue, you might want to consider seeking another job, where you can be at the top, or a manager you vibe better with.