how to make your boss adore you

It occurred to me recently that every boss I’ve ever had has told me at some point that I’m easy to work with. I’ve been thinking about why, and here’s what I’ve come up with. (To be clear, I’m far from perfect at this stuff; I just strive in this direction. Also, doing this stuff requires that you have a reasonably sane manager. If you don’t, then as always in that case, all bets are off.)

• Approach your work like a consultant and try to assess things from an emotionally detached place. That means, for example, responding to critical feedback about your work in the same way you’d respond to a problem that wasn’t connected to you — by gathering information and talking over options. (“Would it be better to do X?” “I think Y is happening because of Z. Let me try to do ___ and see if that solves it.”) It’s approaching it as collaborative problem-solving rather than as something sticky and emotionally charged. And speaking of feedback…

• Make it easy to give you feedback. That means soliciting it directly by asking questions like, “Should I handle that differently in the future?” and “Do you have thoughts on how I could do X better?” and it means not getting panicky when you get it. (See above; treat it as collaborative problem-solving, not an attack.)

• If your manager’s perspective is different from yours, focus not on persuading her to see it your way or on getting frustrated, but on figuring out why: What do you know that she doesn’t know, or what does she know that you’re not considering? The reason for your differing perspectives is probably in there.

• Work to get a good sense of what types of things your manager wants to be in the loop on — what she wants to be consulted on, what she wants to approve, and what she wants to be informed about. And if you’re unsure, don’t guess — ask directly so that you know.

• Keep your manager in the loop about anything remotely sensitive/awkward/controversial and how you’re handling it, so that there aren’t surprises later (for either of you — whether it’s her being surprised that Sensitive Thing X happened or was handled a certain way, or you being surprised afterwards that she doesn’t like the way you handled it).

• Accept idiosyncrasies with grace and calm. Every manager — every person — has at least a few weird preferences or pet peeves. Roll with them. Maybe your manager wants everything printed in Times New Roman 14 and you much prefer Arial 12. Make your case for Arial once and then drop it. Don’t snark to coworkers every time you have to change the font on something or try to sneak in Arial. And don’t make her feel like you think she’s ridiculous for it; roll with her preferences the same way you’d want your team to roll with yours.

• When your raise concerns, frame them from the perspective of “what makes the most sense for the organization and why?” rather than “I want X.” That’s the perspective your manager is going to need to take, so it’s better for both of you if the conversation starts there.

• That said, if something really just comes down to “I want X,” be straightforward about that too. If you have credibility built up from doing the other things in this list, sometimes it’s okay to say, “I understand that X doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s driving me crazy. Could we try doing ___?”

• When you’re confused or concerned by a manager’s words or actions, ask about it rather than letting it bug you and make you anxious. And don’t try to dance around it; just plunge right in: “I noticed you seemed hesitant when we were talking about X in the staff meeting. Do you want me handling that differently?” Or, “Last week when we talked about X, you said Y. I realized I wasn’t sure what you meant by that.” Or, “I might be misreading this, but do you have any concerns about how I’m handling X?” (The key: You have to say this stuff calmly and with genuine openness and curiosity. Sounding agitated would give it a completely different feel.)

Related:
how to be an awesome hard-ass
how to be awesome at work

{ 79 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Gem H

    This has come at a good tiem for me. I’m five weeks into a new job and due to some issues starting (they weren’t prepared for the lack of customer support I’d have to do, so they needed to move up my training), I’m feeling like I’m not approaching work in a way that is good and useful.

    I’ll be taking these tips into my meeting tomorrow and hopfully get back on the right track again, thanks, Alison!

    Reply
  2. extra anon today.

    Building on this, do you have any tips for someone who struggles with social anxiety and panic disorder? I have a very hard time getting feedback (I have a panic attack at the mere thought of performance reviews) because of a job where I was blinded sided with a 45 minute critique on my interpersonal skills that prior to which I didn’t realize were a problem. A large part of this was referring to a list of written quotes of things that I had said that they found problematic and that I would need to change how I spoke and my own values entirely to continue working. One of my social anxiety quirks is a fear that everything I say is wrong and that someone somewhere is keeping a running list of everything I say to use against me in the future. I always calmed myself by saying that that is silly and no one would do that – so having that exact situation come true was incredibly damaging for me. Afterwards I would get told to stop talking to people entirely, and this just reinforced the terror that I already felt about speaking and interacting socially.

    I have a really hard time with feedback because I’m terrified that a situation will go down again somewhere in the future, the first time it happen was so traumatic for me (it ruined any self confidence that I had had prior especially as I had always seen myself as professional and well spoken; it’s taking me a long time and a lot of therapy to work through the physical anxiety symptoms that have stemmed from the experience) that I am filled with terror that it will happen again. How can I make feedback less of an imposing, terrifying thing when logically I know it is needed to improve both as a person and employee?

    Reply
    1. NP

      I think Alison’s first two bullets should be helpful to you. By asking for feedback on a consistent basis, and on smaller tasks, it will get easier over time to receive feedback because a) you shouldn’t be blindsided by big huge scary negative feedback, and b) you’ll be more used to receiving feedback of all kinds and hopefully start to realize that not all feedback is big huge scary negative. And by analyzing feedback as a consultant (it’s not about you; it’s about getting the best outcome for the project or the team), you make it less personal.

      Also? It sounds like the people at your old job were really bad at giving feedback.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        The advantage in asking for feed back is not obvious but it’s a subtle way of taking back control over feedback.
        Basically that is your compliant, you had feedback that was way out beyond your control. so now any feedback looks overwhelming. Be sure to ask if there is anything that you are doing particularly well with that the boss would like to see more of.

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    2. MaryMary

      Do you have regular one-on-one meetings with your manager? If you do, suggest to your manager that you incorporate a regular feedback session into those meetings. If you don’t, see if your manager would be open to a brief (half hour or less) meeting with you once a month or so. You can even let her know that you were blind-sided at a previous job, and this would be your way of regularly checking in on your performance. Hopefully, this way you get more immediate feedback in small doses, rather than having something big dumped on you.

      Reply
    3. fposte

      Have you looked in the archives here? Alison has done a bunch of posts specifically about receiving feedback that you may find very useful.

      Reply
    4. The Cosmic Avenger

      First, it sounds like you have a horrible manager. A 45-minute critique would be of little help to even the most adaptable employee.

      Can you ask for written feedback, so you can read it in a place you feel safe and then prepare a response? I know that’s helped me in the past. Also, if they have to write it down they’re more likely to use more objective, concise language. Heck, that’s why I prefer email, not just as a record of requests and responses, but because it really makes people distill down their requests and answers. (Not that emails can’t be wordy, but it’s hard to ramble on or go off on tangents.)

      Reply
    5. CTO

      In addition to the great suggestions above, take advantage of your EAP if you have one. Even a few results-focused counseling sessions could help a lot.

      Reply
      1. CTO

        Oops, I see that you’re already participating in therapy to focus on this challenge (which is great!). Still, a few sessions with someone else specifically focused on workplace issues might be helpful to give you more ideas about how to cope at work while you’re sorting out the larger needs with your regular therapist.

        Reply
    6. Not So NewReader

      I agree you have a horrible manager. A list of quotes, really?

      I had a boss do this to me. I said, “Why don’t people just ask me what I meant in the moment?”

      Oh no way, she insisted. We can’t do that. They need to come tell me and I will handle it.

      It took every ounce of self-restraint I had not to tell her that her department felt like kindergarten all over again.

      Anyway the problems got worse after that and I left with no job lined up. She was writing me up for things that never happened. She would just make something up and put it on paper. I could not defend myself fast enough or often enough.

      My point is that your ex-boss is the one who needs counseling to figure out a) it’s not okay to treat people like garbage and b) to learn baseline respect for fellow human beings.

      Reply
      1. GrumpyBoss

        With all due respect, it sounds like you weren’t receptive to feedback either. It can be hard, especially when given in an unprofessional manner. But saying “Why don’t people just ask me ” isn’t what feedback is about. Feedback is about how YOU are perceived, so the YOU can alter your behavior to shape perception. Even when it is 100% stupid, pointing out that someone else should behave differently to your actions means you aren’t listening or considering what is being said.

        When I’ve been given stupid feedback, I just nod, smile, and say “thank you for your perspective. It has given me something new to consider”. Then I can walk away and decide if I’m going to alter how I do things or not. But pointing out that others should respond to you differently is the same as saying, “it’s not me, it’s you/them”.

        Reply
        1. Sarahnova

          I think that’s a fair point. Other people’s perception of you is equally as valid as yours of them.

          Nobody says you have to conform to every piece of feedback and suggestion you get; you’re always at liberty to decide, “I don’t think what I get out of doing it this person’s way is worth it”. The point is to give you the information on how you’re perceived so you can make an informed decision about how to proceed, and also to show the person giving it that you have listened. Your workplace may well be dysfunctional out the wazoo and give ludicrous feedback, but you’re still better off listening and saying, “I see; that’s really informative, thanks” (and, if necessary, making a mental note to Get Out).

          Reply
    7. krisl

      Can you ask for feedback in writing? Maybe in an e-mail? That will give you time to think about it and react in private.

      Reply
    8. Anon

      This has happened to me. My boss critcised ny communications to the point where I was scared to say anything in meetings. I decided to address it proactvely and positively by researching good comms and putting relevant things into practice then emailing my manager with examples (including feedback from others – even verbal feedback) of good comms that I’d had as a result to prove I was addressing it. It meant he had no wiggle room when it came to review time; he agreed with my progress and I was marked as displaying comms skills for the grade above my role but he said I still had comms issues (!) I concluded that I was in an impossible situation and had to deal with it formally (grievance for bullying – there was other stuff going on and I’d become a shell of my former self). But I’m glad I approached it this way – I’d exhausted the possibility that it was a problem with me and had evidence to conclude the problem was him. I’d do this again (the first part – hopefully will never have to go as far as the second!) because it moved the power back into my court and I got some of my confidence back (it’s a work in progress but I’m on the right track).

      I ended up moving jobs and managing someone who has social anxiety. Thankfully she told me early on so we’ve been working together to find opportunities to slowly and ‘safely’ address these – like meeting with people rather than relying on email. I accompanied her to the first meetings if she wanted me to, I gave her feedback afterwards – I think she just needed to hear that she’s handling these things well – and now she is arranging and going to meetings without any support from me. She’s doing great! (But she needed a bit of a push in the beginning!) if you think your manager is someone who can support you through this, then raise it with her and find opportunities to practice. Good luck!

      Reply
    9. Melissa

      I used to have a little bit of anxiety about receiving feedback from supervisors. It has almost completely disappeared because academia is a harsh place and someone is always criticizing you for something – here, it means they like you :D But here are the things I’ve done to learn to cope:

      1) I learned to take a deep breath and say “Thank you for the feedback; it’s appreciated.” Taking the time to say that first usually gave me enough time to calm down the initial feelings of panic to something low-level I could deal with. Always pause, especially if you feel like you are about to say something defensive.

      2) This sounds difficult to “just do” but I just really try to depersonalize it, like Alison suggests in #1. You may have to actually pause to mentally remind yourself “It’s nothing personal”. It’s not about me, my personal worth or my character – just this very specific work-related thing. If I’m reading written feedback sometimes I remind myself of the things I’m really good at. Either way, I try to turn my brain to solutions – what kinds of things can I do to address these issues?

      In academia we have a joke that once you receive your feedback from journal editors (who review your articles before publication and nearly always reject them with lots of edits before they accept you), you should take a quick scan of the feedback, set it aside and privately curse out how idiotic the reviewers are and how they just cannot recognize your brilliance, and then come back 1-3 days later when you’re calmer and actually begin the work of revising the paper. Obviously if you are getting in-person feedback you can’t do that, but I have taught myself in the midst of verbal feedback to think very quickly “Whatever, I’m awesome” before turning my attention to humbly receiving the feedback. (I say that tongue-in-cheek – that’s actually what I do think to myself, but not in a way that makes me obstinate to feedback. Just as a little way to remind myself that even awesome people need improvement, but that doesn’t mean we’re not awesome :D)

      Reply
  3. LBK

    Is it too passive aggressive to email this to some of my coworkers? I often find myself playing diplomat between them and my manager. It’s like they refuse to speak each other’s languages and I get stuck being interpreter. My manager isn’t one of the best out there but he’s eons away from the worst, and yet from how my coworkers view him you’d think he was taking them to a conference room and whipping them after lunch every day.

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    1. Kai

      I’m in the same boat, and am only beginning to realize the effect it’s had on my own attitude at work. I’ve let myself be way too influenced by coworkers who are impatient, frustrated, overworked, and quick to jump to conclusions about how everyone is obviously conspiring against them. Not that some of their frustrations aren’t valid, but they complain to me and I latch onto their negativity and before you know it, I hate my job more than I probably should. Trying to distance myself from the nastiness more these days.

      Reply
      1. LBK

        Yep, I had to do that, but once I distanced myself, formed my own opinion of our manager and then learned to stick to it, I’ve become MUCH happier at work. I’ve realized things aren’t nearly as bad as I was being led to believe by all the negativity around me. The biggest change is that I stopped engaging with my coworkers when they start whining. If they’re making a completely unreasonable complaint or just making a flat-out wrong statement, I will pleasantly state one counterpoint (important: one point, not a list of points that may encourage a debate). Real example, with details altered:

        Jane: Ugh, Bob left me this crazy voicemail about how he got one of the Nougat Teapots we were mailing to his client. It was just his sample copy! Why is he freaking out? He’s so stupid.
        Me: Well, we didn’t tell him beforehand that we were sending him a sample copy.
        Jane: *realizes her complaint is pointless and goes back to work*

        If they’re just bitching with no real purpose, I do three things:

        1) I avoid looking up/making eye contact
        2) I make a non-committal sound of acknowledgment
        3) I move on and keep working

        99% of the time, this works – if you disengage as much as possible (without flat-out ignoring them) and don’t feed their obvious desire to rope you into a conversation, they’ll usually just stop talking and then awkwardly go back to working after a moment. For the 1% of the time this doesn’t work, I just find any excuse to leave my desk – refilling my water bottle, going to the bathroom, getting something out of the supply closet, whatever.

        I’ve found that it’s nearly impossible to change a negative person who doesn’t want to change, and you’ll be a lot happier once you get into the habit of blocking them out. It’s really hard to break the cycle if you’ve been engaging them up to this point because you don’t want to feel like you’re no longer participating in the office commiseration – blowing off steam about the stuff that annoys you at work is one of the easiest ways to build comradery with your coworkers. However, it’s an extremely thin line between venting and just stewing in negativity, and that line is a lot closer to the starting point than people usually think. It’s easier to just avoid the line entirely rather than trying to toe it.

        I still wish I didn’t find myself playing interference when we’re in group settings and tempers rise, but this strategy has made me more relaxed and happier when I’m around my coworkers, and as a bonus it’s made my one-on-one interactions with my manager much more enjoyable.

        (end rant)

        Reply
        1. Kai

          Ooooh, this is great. And you’re right–the commiseration/camaraderie part is why it’s so difficult to disengage. I want to be part of the team, I want my coworkers to like me, and besides, I share a lot of their complaints. But I’ve let it get too far for my own comfort.

          Reply
          1. Not So NewReader

            I have used one-size-fits-all sayings.

            “I know. We are all in the same boat.”

            “The job is what it is. There are some rough spots and some good spots.”

            “Well, this is the job we have and we need to eat and have a roof over our heads.”

            Personally, I have found that logical, non-emotional answers are the best for nipping this stuff in the long run. However, it takes a while for the message to be received. People that don’t want logical, non-emotional answers will go talk to someone else.

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            1. Lady Sybil

              Nice! I will start using this. It is what it is. I dislike people venting at me, hopefully this will help move them along. I’ve got more important things to do than bitch and moan.

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            2. Sunshine

              This is great. I just had similar conversations with a few of my team this week. I know when you’re sitting in a cube farm surrounded by bitching and negativity, it is hard to disengage and focus on the work. But honestly… you’ll be so much happier when you do. And, yes, the complainers will move on to those who will join in. I’ll be using some of these ideas for my upcoming reviews. Thanks!

              Reply
        2. just a gentile

          “Every facet, every department of your mind, is to be programmed by you. And unless you assume your rightful responsibility, and begin to program your own mind, the world will program it for you.” – Jack Kornfeld

          Reply
    2. ClaireS

      Ooooh that’s a tough one. Any way you can remove yourself from the situations that don’t directly involve you? Instead of interpreting your manager when your colleagues complain or are confused, can you adopt a “I don’t know. Ask Manager.” This might force them to deal with their own issues but it also may just make working harder…..

      Reply
      1. LBK

        I’ve stopped getting involved when I’m just overhearing comments, but we have weekly meetings that I obviously can’t avoid. We’re a small team, too, so it can become pretty heated since it’s not like it’s a large group setting where a one-on-one argument would be awkward or potentially more inappropriate.

        Reply
  4. MaryMary

    In my experience as a manager (and, of course, having had many managers), I feel like there are two golden rules:

    1. No surprises
    2. No drama

    No surprises means keeping your boss in the loop regarding your status on projects, letting them know if you made a mistake, talking to them proactively if you or your team is going to miss a target, giving them a heads up if you have a touchy customer or difficult client, etc. Basically, if you need to give your manager bad news, it is always better that they hear it from you than someone else. Of course, it’s best not to have to give your boss bad news at all, which is the other half of no surprises.

    No drama is somewhat related to Alison’s points on talking to your manager about anything sensitive, awkward, or controversial. Sometimes drama happens to us, but a lot of people create their own drama. Unless someone specifically put you in charge of it, don’t be the PTO police, the arrival/departure police, the dress code police, the productivity police, or the personal lives police. Come to work on time, don’t leave early, and use your PTO properly. Follow the dress code. Try to keep your personal and professional lives separate. Focus on work when you’re at work. Don’t eat your coworkers’ food without permission, clean up the microwave if your lunch explodes, and don’t bring stinky foods to the office. Don’t write passive aggressive notes to your coworkers. When you have an issue with your coworkers, try talking to them directly before going to your manager. Don’t create drama, and when drama happens to you, try to handle it with calm and grace.

    Reply
  5. James M

    Looks like it boils down to “Accept that your boss has a viewpoint separate from yours” and “Be open and direct about work related concerns”.

    I would add to the list: “If you don’t know the answer to your boss’s question, just say so. Don’t give a half-assed, less than useless guess at the answer.” Also applies to questions from anyone in your workplace; you don’t get partial credit when you misinform people you work with.

    Reply
    1. Dan

      Life becomes a lot less stressful when you accept that you’re not the center of the universe and learn to go with the flow.

      I tell my direct bosses that I will always play it straight with them. And if I think you’re screwing up, I’ll tell you once and only once. Then I’ll keep my mouth and continue marching on. That way, they can’t ever say to me “but you never told me” but I also don’t become a perpetual PITA.

      Seems to work ok so far.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        I hitting a brain void but there is a song with a line in it:

        “we have to learn how to bend without the world caving in”.

        Oh my, yes and it applies to life in general.

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    2. Wonkette

      The Freakonomics podcast had an interesting episode on how the words “I don’t know” are the hardest words to say for many people. I agree that we should be able to admit not knowing the answer to a problem, though it’s helpful to say that you’ll follow up, etc.

      Reply
  6. Dan

    Another is to not take criticism personally. I’m working in R&D right now. My stuff has flaws. More specifically, the *algorithms* I’ve implemented have flaws. If the stuff doesn’t work right, is that a reflection on me, or just a fact of life?

    Point being, if my boss says she doesn’t like the results of X, or Y needs to be improved, taking it personally would make life for both of us a lot harder.

    Reply
  7. In progress

    What about when you can only communicate with your manager by phone (via a translator), note, or e-mail because they are not on-site when you are? For a while it felt like my manager didn’t like me because she didn’t know me at all. I’m still trying to find a way to have appropriate communication when it’s almost entirely written.

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    1. Jillociraptor

      This is only a little piece of it, but this might be a good occasion for the “assume the best until you can’t” adage. Assume that any brusqueness or brevity isn’t masking anything else, it’s just the nature of the medium. The shift in perspective might help?

      Reply
      1. In progress

        This is something I’m working on! I’m also trying to be careful about how I’m received when I write back, too. It would be very easy to come off as defensive, especially when I’m actually feeling defensive. In person, I can show good will by smiling and tone of voice. So most of the time I’ve stopped responding in writing to the feedback, and just making an extra effort.

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        1. Anon

          I’ve been doing this – my emails tend to be transactional so I’ve started purposely putting in “I hope this email finds you well” or “Have a great weekend” etc to humanise them. I usually re-read emaild begore sending them and adding them in. I picked this up from someone who’s style I admired. I think it helps soften emails.

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  8. Ann O'Nemity

    This is such great advice! I need to bookmark this page or just print it out for future reference.

    That said, my manager and I are just going to have to agree to disagree about the proper spacing after a period. Our compromise is consistency. At least we see eye-to-eye on the Oxford comma.

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      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

        Given the spacing in her post, it appears she is on the side of light and truth here (i.e., one space).

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          1. Kimberlee, Esq.

            Though one of the major style guides (I want to say Chicago) just changed their guidelines a couple months ago to require 2 spaces! It blew my mind!

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            1. Chinook

              I had a huge discussion about this when I was doing layout for a newspaper and had to relearn how to type (which I had been doing since I was 6). It turns out that we were all taught one way to deeal with typewriters but then technology change, the training changed and no one bothered to tell us. So, since we no longer need the extra space after a period, it must disappear (and we “old guys” just have to learn how to “Find & Replace” “. ” with “. ” after we are done typing and save everyone’s psyche).

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              1. Chinook

                Sorry – AAM’s blog edited my cool trick. It should be Find & Replace “.[space][space]” with “.[space]”

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            2. Headachey

              Don’t think it was Chicago – CMOS Online at 6.7 still specifies “In typeset matter, one space, not two, should be used between two sentences—whether the first ends in a period, a question mark, an exclamation point, or a closing quotation mark or parenthesis. By the same token, one space, not two, should follow a colon. When a particular design layout calls for more space between two elements—for example, between a figure number and a caption—the design should specify the exact amount of space (e.g., em space).”

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            3. Melissa

              My field’s major style guide only started requiring one space in its newest edition, which was published a year or two ago I think. I’m still so used to typing 2 spaces that I make this error a lot.

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      2. Sadsack

        What is wrong with two spaces? Guess I got in my head from good ol’ typing class 25 years ago. I just don’t understand why it is wrong these days.

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        1. Lizabeth

          It’s from the days of the typewriter which is mono type – each letter occupies the same amount of space regardless of the letter. The double space after a sentence was used to give a visual space or pause to let you know the sentence ended. Otherwise it would look like continuous run on sentences.

          Fonts these days are not mono type – so you don’t visually need the double space after the sentence. Sometimes it looks fine that way, other times it doesn’t – depends on the font used.

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            1. just a gentile

              Many people have preferences based on what they learned, but on the double space thing, there are objective reasons why it mades sense on typewriters and doesn’t make sense with most fonts we use on computers.

              I do a fair bit of design work and manage some other design work, and it really annoys me how people talk about stuff like this “I like it that way” or “That’s how I learned it.” Those are weak rationales. There are reasons for some things. Sometimes the reasons are tradition, and that’s OK if we understand the tradition and it’s meaning.

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              1. Ann O'Nemity

                Yes, this. Unless you’re using Courier or some other monospaced typeface, there’s no reason for the second space. It’s inefficient, does nothing to improve readability, and can cause line break weirdness in electronic docs.

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          1. Not So NewReader

            Yep. We now have proportional spacing.
            For example an “i” takes up less space than a “w”.
            Used to be each letter got the same amount of space.

            I can’t believe I was used to seeing that, now it looks so strange.

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    1. LQ

      I’m not a fan of double spacing, but as long as you do it the same all the time I can deal. People who switch it up constantly frustrate and confuse me though. Consistency is your friend!

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    2. ClaireS

      Ha! I had this argument with my boss once. It got heated and several other managers came to join the “discussion” and I fought with all of them.

      It was entirely light hearted but at one point I had a moment of “uh-oh! I am actually arguing quite aggressively with 3 managers”

      Reply
  9. ClaireS

    Great advice! I am a big fan of the “heads up conversations” about everything from projects to sensitive matters. I often say to my boss “hey! No action for you but I want you to be aware in case things change. This is the sitch; this is what I’m doing about it.”

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  10. LizNYC

    Love all of these!

    As for the idiosyncrasies, it’s also good to remember that these things are PREFERENCES, not how I have to do things the rest of my life. When my old boss morphed into the largest micromanager ever (seriously, my coworkers and I felt like we were under a giant microscope all.the.time), it was such a relief after I left to ditch HER preferences and go back to my own — and learn a whole new set at my new job.

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  11. just a gentile

    I’m a new manager and have a person reporting to me that gives me some problems with bullet 3. I respect her opinion, and hired her in part because she thinks quite differently than I do.

    I’ve asked her to not hesitate in speaking up but to stop pushing after I’ve made a decision. She’s having a little trouble with that, and I’m worried in that I don’t want to have her self-edit initially, just after I’ve decided things. So it’s a fine line.

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    1. Not So NewReader

      “I respect her opinion, and hired her in part because she thinks quite differently than I do.”

      Please make that part of a big picture conversation, soon. She needs to understand that you want to hear her various ideas but you may not always use them. If you don’t use them it’s not the end of the world and it is not a reflection on her. And include her more on what your vision is: “I think that we can do this, this and this. We will land in this spot here, which will position us well to do that and that.” Clue her in as to where you see the group going.

      Reply
      1. Ann O'Nemity

        Agree with this advice. A big picture conversation is called for.

        And if the employee keeps pushing on specific issues, it may help to say something like, “As we previously discussed, I appreciate hearing your feedback on issues. But now that the decision is finalized, we need to proceed with the plan.”

        Reply
  12. Artemesia

    The most important thing in a subordinate role I think is ‘no surprises’ — always make sure your boss has a heads up. In my last job, a former employee wrote an article that trashed our business in a very personal way — I heard about it before it was published and knew that my boss was going to be at a professional meeting where she might hear about it. I emailed her with a heads up and a suggested response e.g. ‘oh that IS the sort of thing I would expect from him.’ and laugh. She was profuse in her gratitude — it meant she didn’t get blindsided and could plan how to gracefully respond whether she took my advice on that or not.

    My husband once worked in regulation enforcement and prosecutions for a boss whose position was highly political. Early on he told my husband ‘I have lots of friends in this business, so what I ask is that you not let me be seen having breakfast with someone you plan to indict later that day.’

    No boss likes to feel like a fool — so if you mess up in a way that may come back to bite, it is critical to give the boss a heads up — or if there is a complaint or incident that is likely to get sticky. No boss likes to hear from her boss about something going awry in her own domain.

    Reply
    1. FedAnon

      The hard part is determining which things the boss needs the heads up on and which things won’t turn into major issues. Or when there’s a matrix organization – which boss do you warn? It’s a no-brainer when you know you have news a customer will not take happily or you found an article by an employee trashing the company, but when there are dozens of things in work that could potentially be the fire of the day if one of the upper managers decides it’s scary, is it worth it to warn the line manager about all the potential issues?

      Reply
  13. CAF

    I wish I had seen this sooner, and my SO is struggling with his boss. His work was fine for almost a year and a half, but suddenly the boss wants someone who is flashier with clients. SO admits he could have done more, but I think if his boss expected SO to develop into a person wih this quality without ever saying so for a year and a half or doing anything to foster it, he’s a poor manager. SO is just not flashy by nature and now he’s on thin ice due to this unspoken expectation. He will be interviewing and will keep some of this stuff in mind when evaluating fit in potential new positions. Luckily he’s in an industry in which talent at his level is scarce.

    Reply
  14. Thomas W

    Love the advice on approaching feedback as a collaborative discussion. That’s definitely something I try to focus on. I have a great boss, and when I recently made a significant mistake, we had a conversation about it. It never felt like punishment or belittling. It was purely “You did things X way; we need you to do it Y way, for Z reasons.” I knew that he wanted me to succeed, and that was the reason for having the conversation.

    Reply
  15. nep

    All sound advice and quite helpful — I’ve seen with my boss how important these elements are.
    About soliciting feedback — It makes good sense to do so, I’d say primarily in particularly difficult or potentially sticky situations. But in my view, regularly saying things like ‘should I have handled X differently’ or ‘have you got thoughts on how I could do Y better’ could come across as too much second-guessing and a kind of insecurity / lack of self confidence. Perhaps a bit of a fine line there.

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  16. D

    I have to play devil’s advocate and say that these points are great…when you have a reasonable boss. Of course, that presents a more serious question of whether or not it’s worth your while to stay on or get out.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      This definitely came to mind as I read the piece — all works out nicely if the boss is reasonable, open, and the like.

      Reply
    2. LBK

      That caveat is actually mentioned right in the first paragraph:

      It occurred to me recently that every boss I’ve ever had has told me at some point that I’m easy to work with. I’ve been thinking about why, and here’s what I’ve come up with. (To be clear, I’m far from perfect at this stuff; I just strive in this direction. Also, doing this stuff requires that you have a reasonably sane manager. If you don’t, then as always in that case, all bets are off.)

      Reply

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