Having a great boss can be transformational. Having a terrible boss can be soul-sucking. When it comes to the boss-employee relationship, most people fall somewhere between. Improving the relationship with your boss has a positive impact on your work and your life overall.
Much of the power lies in your hands; you can influence, and ultimately create, a better work experience for both yourself and your boss. Here are four tips:
1. Know Their Metrics.
What is your boss evaluated on? Knowing their top priorities can not only make you more effective in your role; it can also improve your relationship because you’ll know where your boss is coming from.
Imagine your car breaking down on the side of the road, and the person in your passenger seat keeps going on and on about how much they want cheeseburgers for dinner. It makes you feel annoyed, like they are completely unaware of what is going on. The same thing happens at work. Being aligned with your boss on the most important priorities streamlines your communication and keeps you focused when things get busy.
2. Frame Your Requests.
When you know what your boss is evaluated on, framing requests becomes easier. If you want to make a new hire, go to training, take a certain direction, etc., it’s natural to position your requests in terms of what it means to you. A more effective technique is to frame your request in terms of what it means to your boss. Your request sits in the context of what your boss believes is most important. Here’s an example:
3. Be a Lookout.
The phrasing “It’s lonely at the top” is an expression typically reserved for CEO’s or world leaders. But the essence is still true in middle management. When I work with leaders, I’m often surprised by how lonely they feel.
Everyone deserves to feel like someone is looking out for them. If you truly believe your boss is making a mistake, it’s your duty to tell them. It doesn’t mean they have to heed your advice, or even agree with you, but if you want to have a good relationship, judging from the sidelines is not a choice. Simple language, like “I would be remised if I didn’t share some of my concerns with you,” can up-level trust and commitment.
4. Widen Your Net of Support.
The shift to virtual work has shrunken our pool of contacts. Without an entrance of “good morning’s” and a day full of unplanned elevator interactions, we tend to gravitate towards the same, familiar people over and over. To improve your relationship with your boss, try widening your net. Does someone else have relevant experience to what you’re working on? Who might have a different take?
Widening your net, especially in things like brainstorming new ideas or problem-solving, will give you better thinking and make you more self-reliant. This often frees up time with your boss to focus on the most important things. This practice also results in you having a wider network of influence and relationships throughout your organization.
(And of course, when it’s really important, your boss’s involvement is crucial.)
Like all relationships, boss-employee relationships go through ups and downs. With these four tips, you’ll develop a foundation that can weather the storm.