Managing Up: What To Do If Your Boss Doesn't Like You

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Colleagues at work

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Working Mother
Working Mother

Even though managers should try to remain objective at work, it's no secret that your boss has a fave at the office—and it's not you. Since you have your mind and heart set on moving up in your career, what are your options? Should you focus on winning over your supervisor, or find other ways of reaching your career goals? We spoke with Kathy Kram, Ph.D., professor emerita at the Questrom School of Business at Boston University and co-author of Strategic Relationships at Work: Creating Your Circle of Mentors, Sponsors, and Peers for Success in Business and Life for advice.

Decide whether it's possible to get your boss to like your more.

Despite not being the favorite, if you still get along with your boss, you can attempt ways to improve your relationship. "Try to listen and ask questions of your boss to find what he expects of you, and find if he is willing or able to meet those expectations. It would certainly be worthwhile to have a conversation," Dr. Kram says. She suggests asking your boss questions like "What would it take for you to see me as a high performer?”

If your boss just doesn't seem that into you, find other people who can support you.

You may feel that your manager doesn't listen well or value what you have to offer the organization—both signs that she wouldn't be of much to help to your career, according to Dr. Kram. But it's not the end of the world, because there are so many more people out there who can help. "If you feel your boss is not enthusiastic about you, it's important to consider who else in your workplace might be supportive," Dr. Kram says.

Her suggestion: Develop relationships with more people, whether a more experienced peer, a more senior person in another part of the workplace or even people outside your workplace. "Cultivate relationships with other people who might value what you have to offer, and perhaps even seek out opportunities to work for one or more of those other people," Dr. Kram says. The key is to not rely on just one person (in this case, your boss) for support—and this applies even if your boss adores you.

As Dr. Kram discusses in her book, it's ideal to have a wide circle of mentors, both formal (as assigned by a company, for example) or informal (such as a mentor from a different organization that you reached out to independently), since mentor relationships can fade over time for a number of reasons.

Work to grow your circle of support.

Once you've identified some people you'd be interested in receiving support from—mentors, sponsors, colleagues, peers outside the office—meet with them to learn about what they do and how they got to where they are, in case you're interested in a similar career path, suggests Dr. Kram. Then let the person know what your own career goals are and what you have to offer—part of developing a rapport. Also, ask the person for her opinion on a project you're working on, which could invite the beginning of a mentor relationship, Dr. Kram says. And remember, your boss isn't responsible for your career—you are.


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