Moises: What to do when the boss doesn’t like me?

@MISSUNDERSTOOD: Hi, Singlestalk. It’s been almost a year since I was transferred to another team. The situation with my new boss has been pricky, icy, distant since day one. I wasn’t her choice. I was just moved to her team. It wasn’t really a bad idea since my expertise in taxation is integral to my new role’s strategic priorities. However, I feel undervalued and underappreciated. She’s also giving me this weird feeling that she is probing me with trick questions like how I spend my time on projects. It doesn’t help that she hangs out with the in-crowd on Friday nights which I am excluded from. What should I do?

DJ: Do you like your new boss? Does the office feel incomplete without her? Aww. Or are you distracted by this obnoxious noise that turns out to be her voice? Humans tend to gravitate toward people who like them. If you want her to like you, you have to like her first. Let’s try to remove the emotional sting of feeling disliked and focus on understanding what’s happening. There are two possibilities I can think of why she isn’t liking you. First is lack of confidence in the results you’re delivering and second, she’s not feeling a natural connection with you. Let’s start with the area where you have the most control — results.

Do you have an agreed set of goals for the year? How’s your performance with respect to these success measures? Schedule a touchpoint with her. Ask for feedback. Align expectations. Now if she wasn’t clear about what she wanted, check for what kind of contribution she is looking for from someone in your role. How can you add value in this job? What areas does she see as most important for you to develop? Invite your boss to tell you the areas that need improvement without having to dwell in her current perception of you by framing your questions in a future-oriented way.

You know what’s the hardest job in the world? It’s having to listen to someone complain about having the hardest job in the world. Agree on frequency of check-ins. Present how you’re achieving the objectives. Ask how else she would like to see included. Stay transparent including areas you may be struggling. It sounds counter-intuitive but working feverishly on a problem and suprising your boss with the bad news at the last minute can further damage your relationship. Trust isn’t built overnight. Keep her posted on a regular basis. Build a track record of high-quality work. Earn a reputation as someone who can deliver.

What if connection is the problem? It happens. Especially when there’s a gap in age, culture or style. Count the rate of WTF per hour that’s said inside your head. Seriously, is her feedback leaning more toward how you’re doing things instead of what you’re doing? Look for clues by observing those who are part of the in-crowd. If your boss is very structured, meet her needs with a lot of detail and precision. Now if order ruins her mojo, keep interactions at a more conceptual level. Engage her as well in conversations around work issues such as recent changes in the country’s income tax rules. Starting with work-related topics instead of probing right away on something personal makes conversations less awkward.

Invest in your relationship with your new team, too. Assist in areas where your expertise is of value. Stay interested about what they do and how they’re contributing to the company. How can she dislike you if your team thinks you’re a big asset to them? Yes, being disliked by those above you can break your career. It’s also a predictor of how your experience is at work. And since it’s where you spend most of your waking hours, it also impacts the quality of your life. It’s challenging when explaining things to your boss has become even harder than teaching your dog not to pee on the carpet.

It’s a slippery slope. Keep a good support system outside work. Strengthen your network inside and outside the company. The more people you have in your corner, the better. How long will you actually want to hang around? Give it one more year. That’s my suggestion. You can’t ultimately change your boss. But you can change boss.