12 ways to make your boss love you

Improving your relationship with your boss isn’t about sucking up or manipulation; it’s about knowing how to work with her effectively, and understanding what a manager wants from you.

Here are 12 habits that are guaranteed to lead to a better relationship with your boss.

1. Make sure you’re on the same page about expectations. Talk with your manager about your goals and priorities for the year and what success would look like for you, and make sure she agrees. This should include talking about what you won’t be prioritizing as well – an area that often goes unaddressed and ends up causing problems. Often explicitly discussing these topics can bring conflicting assumptions to the surface—and solve them.

2. Pay attention to what kinds of questions your boss asks so you get a better understanding of the types of things she cares about. By paying attention to what your boss asks or seems worried about, you can often draw larger messages about the sorts of things that she’ll care about in the future. For instance, you might notice that your boss always asks about your plan for ensuring the monthly mailing doesn’t get delayed, or how you’re covering X and Y while people are out for the holidays. If you learn to anticipate those things in advance and address them before she has to ask, you’ll be every manager’s dream.

3. Make your boss’s job easy. When your manager assigns you work, repeat back the assignment to her – including your understanding of the outcome she’s looking for, the deadline, and any constraints. For instance, you might say, “So it sounds like we’re looking for a vendor who can get us faster turnaround times, without going up significantly in price, and we need some options by July 10.” You might feel silly at first, but often simply repeating back your understanding of the assignment can stop miscommunications before they start. And from there, stay engaged by checking in with her on an ongoing basis, offering updates, and giving her chances for input.

4. Suggest solutions whenever you can. Sure, you could just bring your boss a problem and say, “What should I do about X?” But you’ll make it easier for both of you if you say, “Here’s the situation with X. I’ve thought about A, B, and C, and I think we should do C because ___. Does that sound okay to you?”

5. Take responsibility for mistakes. If a project didn’t go as well as it could have, bring it up before your boss has to. Start a conversation with “In retrospect, I wish I had ___” or “Next time, I’m going to ___.” Your boss will be impressed that you’re thinking this way – plus you’ll be doing part of her job for her.

6. Focus on what you can control, not what you can’t. Inevitably, there will be things about your job or your boss that frustrate you and which you can’t change or control. Rather than focusing on things that you can’t do much about (like a manager who regularly cancels your weekly meeting), think about what you can do (such as saying, “I know you’re really busy, but can I talk to your assistant and get 10 minutes on your calendar?”).

7. Use the communication methods she prefers. If you’re an email person and she prefers talking in person, guess what? Her preferences win. You won’t get anywhere sending long emails to a boss who wants to hash things out face-to-face – and similarly, if your boss favors email, you’ll annoy her if you keep showing up in her doorway to talk. Pay attention to how she communicates, and mirror that back.

8. Speak up when you’re unhappy. If you’re frustrated about something, raise it, talk about the impact, and discuss what could be done differently in the future. Of course, be smart about this: Have this conversation at a time when your boss isn’t swamped or frazzled, and think about your delivery ahead of time, just as you would want her to do if she were raising something sensitive with you.

9. Don’t take things personally. There are going to be times when you have a different point of view than your manager. In these cases, you should advocate for what you believe, and if you think your boss is making a mistake, part of your job is to explain why. But if your boss ultimately picks a different route or sticks to her different opinion, it’s helpful to have reasonably thick skin. Don’t take things personally, and keep your ego out of it. Speaking of which…

10. Listen to feedback with an open mind, and don’t get defensive. It’s fine to disagree, but do it in a non-defensive way. For instance: “I see what you’re saying. The way I was looking at it was ___.” And remember, you’re not in a courtroom and your manager isn’t looking to you to defend yourself. She’s looking for signs that you’re hearing what she’s saying and taking it into account.

11. Don’t forget that your boss is human. Your boss is human, so there may be times when she is grumpy, frustrated, or stressed out, or when she would appreciate hearing that she handled something well. Plus, realize that in the same way you might have sensitivities about the relationship, she might, too. For instance, if you’re taking on responsibilities that used to be hers, she probably won’t appreciate hearing that they used to be a disaster until you came along, or that you’ve solved all the problems that used to stump her. In other words, be thoughtful.

12. Have your own act together. Stay on top of things, ensure your boss only has to tell you something once, don’t let things fall through the cracks, and generally be someone she can rely on. Often when someone complains that they’re being micromanaged, it can be traced back to problems in this area, and fixing them can fix the micromanagement. You might be surprised how much easier your boss is to work with when you have your act together!

{ 11 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamie*

    I am sure there is a simple answer that will make me feel like an idiot, but how do you comment over there? In Firefox I saw no comment block or section so I opened in IE and it’s the same.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      They use Disqus as their commenting system, and apparently it was down this morning. It should be back up now though — you should see a comment box just under the “related articles” section below my bio. Let me know if you don’t, and I’ll pass it on to them!

  2. Jamie*

    No, I tried again just now in both browsers and there is no comment box – just an expanse of white page where it should be.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hmmm. Have you tried refreshing your cache? It’s working for me in Firefox and Safari, but I’ve also passed this on to them.

  3. Scott M*

    My comment applies mostly to the technical fields. Many of the items on this list require skills that only the manager will have, not necessarily the employee. I’m thinking about communicating expectations, desired communication methods, instructions,etc. Generally,a manager is supposed to be better at communication (soft skills) than your average ‘widget maker’. The employee may not know how to decipher what the manager wants. So, for those items, the manager needs to explicitly tell the employee what they want.

      1. Jaime*

        I think Scott’s saying that many of these (communicating expectations, desired communication methods, instructions,etc) are more of your boss’s bailiwick than the employees. For example, if your boss communicates their expectations poorly and then doesn’t appreciate you pursuing clarification, then there’s not much you can do.

        Which is not to say that you, as an employee, can’t still attempt all of your suggestions, I think he’s just saying that the boss has a bigger impact on their success than even how well the employee implements them.

          1. Scott M*

            Sorry, previously commenting with my phone – couldn’t write long sentences! :)

            And I only focused on my pet peeves, completely ignoring the fact that MOST of the suggestions I agreed with. Sorry about that!

            My comments are really about #1,2, 7, and to a lesser extent, #3. Essentially, I’m seeing too many management responsibilities pushed down to employees, because managers aren’t getting adequate training about how to really manage people.

            #1: “Make sure you’re on the same page about expectations.” It’s up to the manager to make expectations clear. And to ask for updates. And to set priorities. And to , well .. manage things. That’s their job. People will never meet your expectations unless you tell them what you expect of them. And it’s the boss’s job to make those expectations clear.

            #2 : “Pay attention to what kinds of questions your boss asks so you get a better understanding of the types of things she cares about”. If my boss cares about something, I expect him to flat out say “These are the things I care about”. I don’t want to have to guess based upon the frequency of what he asks about day in and day out. I don’t have time to tease out meaning by reading between the lines of what he says. I’m not a mind reader or a psychologist.

            #7: “Use the communication methods she prefers.” Again, I expect my boss to tell me how he wants me to communicate. If I keep sending emails and he never responds because he doesn’t LIKE emails, then I think that’s more his issue. He’s the manager, the communicator, the people-person. He needs to explicitly say “Hey, I prefer you to come down to my office and talk rather than emailing.”

            #3 “Make your boss’s job easy.” OK, I can see this. Unfortunately, often I see it applied as – “I (the manager) am empowering you to make your own decisions. Now go away and figure it out”. It’s a manager’s job to direct, manage, coach, train and essentially tell people what to do. If people aren’t “making their boss happy” it might be because the manager isn’t doing these things. Of course they could just be bad employees – I admit that.

            Again, this may apply mostly to people in technical fields who are more literal-minded and have poorer communication and social skills (such as myself).

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              In a perfect world, yes, managers would do these things perfectly. In the real world, there are many less-than-perfect managers — but even the great one appreciate employees who do the things on this list. Focusing on feeling that you shouldn’t have to do this stuff because your manager should do it won’t really get you anywhere … but doing it can make an enormous difference in how you’re perceived at work, your reputation, and your effectiveness. In fact, it goes to #6 — focus on the stuff you can control, not the stuff you can’t.

              1. Charles*

                Yes, in a perfect world we would all fly like eagles; but in the real world many of us work with or for turkeys!

                Yea, Scott M, it sucks; but take for instance, I always ask “what is the deadline on this project?” Now, normally, a manager should be telling staff something as important as this; but, often if I don’t ask then I am the one with a surprise because no one told me the deadline was tomorrow. Yea, it sucks big time; but if you want to be able to cover your-you-know-what; you sometimes have to be the proactive one.

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