It's Not Your Imagination—Your Boss Is Ignoring You

Apparently, bosses will use the cold shoulder to avoid tough conversations.

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Many people are paying close attention to signs that they may be next up for a layoff. Job shedding has accelerated since the start of the year, and mass layoffs in September were the highest they've been since 9/11.

So here's one sign to watch out for: the boss's cold shoulder. The Wall Street Journal reports that managers who have become unhappy with an employee's performance, or who fear having to break bad news, may begin pulling away—shunning meetings, conversation, invitations, and the like.

Apparently some bosses use cold-shoulder subtlety to give feedback. An example from the story:

Bob Miglani, senior director of external medical affairs for Pfizer Inc., says he has purposely made employees that reported to him feel left out of the loop, by not inviting them to meetings or waiting a long time to answer their emails. He has also declined their meeting requests even if he's able to make the meeting so that the employee will see that he didn't want to attend.

"The whole point is to spur them to ask you what's wrong and take charge," says Mr. Miglani, who says some employees he's managed are too sensitive to handle frank feedback, so he resorted to the subtle cues.

If you're picking up on similar cues, schedule a time to talk with your boss and discuss your performance. At the same time, you could engage in some subtlety yourself right now. Stephen Viscusi, author of Bulletproof Your Job, shared this advice when I interviewed him recently:

You write that, in this market, what a boss thinks of you is more important than your hard work. Why?During a jobs recession, especially at publicly traded companies, a CEO looks good if he lets people go. The first thing a boss tells you is: "I have to let somebody go. It's a budget thing." When it's a budget thing, it's no longer a "last hired, first fired" thing, or based on merit or performance. It's the one time a boss gets to use the ax arbitrarily and very subjectively—based on relationships. No matter who they are, bosses hate firing people. It's a really uncomfortable thing for most people to do. But it's very easy to fire someone you don't know personally.

What are the secrets to getting to know your boss?Today, the way we interview and people get to know us, people don't have to say whether they're married or not, or how old they are or what's going on in our lives. But all the laws that protect us also keep us from being a human being to our boss. It's really difficult to fire someone when you know their mom has breast cancer, or they're going through a divorce or their kid is going through problems at school. I'm not saying you need to spill all your guts to your boss, but you need them to be able to identify you as a human being and as a person. The chemistry has to be good. It's much more difficult to fire someone that you know personally or that you feel like you have an understanding of who they are as a person.


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