It's no easy fix when a boss becomes an adversary. Months of brewing resentment and stubbornness may be standing in the way of both parties coming to the table to resolve their problems.
As an employee, feuding with the boss can be harmful to your performance and potential growth with the company. A boss will have little incentive to promote or increase the pay of someone he or she has a rocky relationship with. "If you have a good relationship with your boss, you'll be in a position to perform better. If you have a bad relationship with your boss, it will put you at a disadvantage in a lot of ways," says John Gabarro, an organizational behavior professor at Harvard Business School who has written extensively about the boss-employee relationship.
While patching things up with your superior may seem like a tall order, it's possible if you follow the steps below.
Confess your imperfections. Convinced you're a perfect employee, you scratch and claw against the idea of a mea culpa. But coming clean to your boss about major mistakes signals that you aren't holding him or her accountable for the poor state of relations, and you're interested in taking steps to change. "By acknowledging your own faults, it shows to the boss that you know how to recognize areas within your own self that perhaps need development," says Jayne Mattson, senior vice president of the Massachusetts-based Keystone Associates, a career management and transition services consulting firm.
Air your grievances. Don't let fear of your boss's authority or possible retribution keep you from raising the issues you have with him or her. The best relationship with any boss is one in which you can openly discuss something you think the boss has done incorrectly, Mattson says. Tactfully voice your complaints without impugning his or her character in the process.
Don't let the hostility fester. Letting the collective anger stew will only make matters worse, Mattson notes. By letting weeks pass, she notes, your boss may forget about an episode altogether, and you may miss the opportunity to shine a light on his or her offensive behavior.
Be understanding of management style. Your last boss may have let you operate in an independent manner, but your current boss is a micromanager to the max. The intrusive style may not reflect a lack of confidence in your abilities. Rather, it could be motivated out of a desire to stay on the same page during the early stages of your working relationship. "Give it some time," Mattson says. "The boss may be at the beginning of the relationship [and] just wants to know everything that you do so that he or she can become familiar with what your role is."
When a month has passed, approach your boss about a possible compromise that gives you more freedom to do your job without leaving him or her in the dark about how you're progressing.
Schedule regular meetings. You and your boss may be plagued by a lack of regular communication. Put on the calendar a 10- to 30-minute weekly meeting that is compatible with both of your schedules. Chat not only about your successes, but also assignments you've struggled to complete.
By being upfront with your boss, you can prevent him or her from being blindsided by co-workers who may question the quality of your work during the next staff meeting. "It's a great relationship-builder to let them know what you're doing. But also, more importantly, what you haven't been able to get to and some of the challenges you've encountered," Mattson says.
[See: 10 Things Only Bad Bosses Say.]
Spell out expectations. To achieve greater unity on matters such as mentoring and organization, bridge your competing visions. "[Being] clear on important expectations means that you're both more likely to be operating on the same page," Gabarro says.
It Takes Two
For the repair to occur, it takes initiative on both ends. "Good relationships seldom happen with no effort on the part of either party," Gabarro says. If your boss is completely unreasonable, the relationship may be unsalvageable. But if his or her goals are reasonable, he says, "you'll be more effective working with him in getting your part of what needs to be done and also he'll be more effective in working with you in what he needs to get done."