how much can you change your manager?

How much can you change your manager?

One of the most common themes in questions I receive at Ask a Manager is: how can I change my manager? How can I make her stop this annoying habit, or not be a jerk, or learn to manage her time better?

The answer is: Maybe you can’t.

And rather than stewing in frustration for months or even years, it’s better to determine once and for all whether or not the thing that’s driving you crazy is going to change. If it’s not, your quality of life is going to much higher if you stop focusing on how much it irritates you and instead accept it and decide how you want to respond.

The first step in doing this is to talk with your manager, and pay close attention to what you hear in response, both spoken and unspoken.

For instance, say you have a boss who constantly reneges on commitments. She tells you she’s going to meet with you at 2:00, and by 4:00 you haven’t heard from her. She tells you she’ll talk to that unreliable vendor for you, and it never happens. You’re frustrated because you can’t rely on her word, and maybe you’re also a bit angry because you could never get away with that yourself. Stop stewing. Instead, sit down with her and explain the behavior’s impact on you, and you ask for what you want.

You may hear up-front that the behavior isn’t going to change: She might tell you, for instance, that the demands of her schedule make doing things differently unlikely. If that’s the case, then it’s time to accept that this is the reality you’re going to be dealing with for as long as you work with her. Instead of being irritated, be grateful she’s given you the truth about what to expect. (You can also ask her for some smaller modifications that might be easier to get — such as warning you in advance when she realizes she’s going to renege on something.)

Or, instead, you may get promises that she’ll change. In that case, you watch and wait. Does anything really change? If not, then the advice above applies to you too, because actions, not words, are what give you the information you need here. I’ve seen many people have the same conversation over and over with their manager for years — promises are made, promises are broken, and the employee keeps trying, inexplicably expecting a different result next time.

And if all signs point to low probability of change? Then you figure out if you can find ways to live with the situation — as it is, not as you want it to be — and still be reasonably happy. If you can’t, then accept that you can’t, and start looking at other jobs. But often, once you stop agonizing over whatever it is that’s irritating you and accept it as part of the package, you can find ways to live with it peacefully.

The upshot? Don’t get so focused on your desire to change the person that you lose site of whether or not that’s something you’re ever likely to get. Commit to seeing and dealing with the reality of the situation, and make your decisions based on that.