Plenty of professionals at all levels have walked away from a less-than-perfect conversation with their supervisors believing that their bosses must have problems with them on a personal level. “She obviously hates me,” your subconscious may scream after your boss rejects a proposed use of PTO, forgets to ask you to sign the CEO’s birthday card, or puts you in the hot seat during a project meeting. However, these perceived slights generally stem from a hectic work schedule, stress in your boss’s personal life, or — in the worst-case scenarios — an issue with your professional performance.
But what if you suspect that your boss just straight-up doesn’t like you? In many cases, these fears can be dispelled by observing your boss’s behavior toward your colleagues. Is she generally inclined to dismiss people, to avoid conversations about tricky work subjects, or to dodge mentions of future advancement for her employees? If that’s the case, the issue lies with her personal management style, not with any singular dislike for you. But if she’s warm, open, and helpful with your coworkers but not with you, it’s possible that your personalities just don’t click.
Below, we’ve listed three signs that indicate that your boss just isn’t that into you — and what you can do about it.
Of course, an effective manager should strive to remain open and communicative to all members of her team, regardless of her personal feelings about them. And if an employee’s work performance is causing issues for the team as a whole, it’s a manager’s literal responsibility to address those problems and put the employee on an improvement plan. However, in practice, supervisors often take extraordinary steps to avoid one-on-one conversations with the employees whose performance is just fine, but whose company they don’t particularly enjoy.
If you notice your boss making herself scarce when you swing by her office to ask a question or constantly postponing scheduled check-ins or reviews, it may be your boss not-so-subtly indicating that she’d rather not spend any extra time with you. However, you probably still need to talk to your boss to get your job done, so there’s no need to take these behaviors lying down.
According to career expert Alison Green of “Ask a Manager," approaching your boss with a positive vibe and a direct message can cut through communication snafus, whether the issues are performance-based or personality-based. If you need your boss’s attention stat, Green advises the following approach:
“You could say something like this: ‘I found it really helpful when we had regular weekly meetings in the past. We’ve stopped doing them as frequently, and when we do them, it’s often at the very end of the week and we run out of time to cover everything. I often run into situations where I need your feedback, and it can be tough to wait as long as we’ve been waiting. Would you be open to meeting weekly again, and trying to do those meetings at a regular time that we can both plan around?’
You could also ask something like this: ‘Is there a better way for me to get ahold of you when you’re busy and I need something that shouldn’t wait until our one-on-one? Typically I’ve tried messaging or calling, but I know you’re busy and can’t always respond right away. When something’s time-sensitive, what’s the best way for me to get ahold of you?”’
It’s easy to dismiss body language as New Age-y and unimportant, but the way you use your physicality to interact with others often speaks louder than any words can do. Bosses who don’t personally like you can frequently mask their distaste in their spoken dialogue and their written communications, but sometimes have more trouble policing their body’s movements, gestures, and positioning.
Business author and speaker Michael Kerr put it like this: “Whether it's a subtle eye roll, constantly assuming a closed off position with arms folded across their chest, or they don't look up from their computer screen when you enter their office, your boss' body language will often reveal their true feelings towards you.”
The best way to handle negative body language from your supervisor involves leading by example. Respond with positive and friendly body language, including direct eye contact, and an open stance. Avoiding the urge to fight fire with fire will reflect well on you and, because people engaged in conversation so often emulate each other’s body language, you may manage to inspire your manager to open up her own physicality in a convivial way.
When you call out sick at work, does your boss stop by your desk upon your return to ask how you’re feeling? After you’ve completed a difficult and time-consuming work project, does your boss give you any time to decompress before loading you up again? If you’ve experienced the death of a loved one and explained the situation to your boss, does she offer her sincere condolences? If the answer to any or all of these is “No”, you’re probably dealing with a personality clash between yourself and your supervisor.
Dr. Amy Cooper Hakim of management consulting firm The Cooper Strategic Group told Business Insider that “[If your boss keeps you overburdened and never attempts to work around your conflicts,] these are surefire signs that your boss doesn't care about how you feel, physically or emotionally, and only cares about things directly related to work. It’s not your boss's job to be your friend, but they should still care about your wellbeing.”
If you’re dealing with a boss like this, your best course of action is to stand your ground and advocate for yourself. If you’ve been sick and your boss instantly tries to drop a dozen new projects on your desk upon your return, tell her firmly and clearly that you need time to re-acclimate, but that you can take on X number of new projects immediately. Respond with a strong sense of your own boundaries, but also propose a compromise, and you’ll still come out looking like a team player.