how to become your boss’s favorite

Your manager has a huge impact on day-to-day quality of life at work. If your manager likes and trusts you, chances are that you’re going to find your work life more pleasant and fulfilling, and you’ll probably advance more quickly too. On the other hand, if your manager doesn’t like you, consequences can range from daily tension to bad assignments to even being pushed out of your job.

While you won’t click with every manager out there, here are seven things that you can do that will significantly improve your relationship with the vast majority of managers – and will make you the beloved favorite of many of them.

1. Think like a consultant. Quite understandably, employees tend to personalize their relationships with their manager, the feedback they receive, whether or not their suggestions are used, and generally how a manager responds to them. Consultants – who have clients instead of bosses – tend to have an easier job of approaching clients from a more emotionally detached place. Try approaching your work like a consultant, which means, for example, responding to critical feedback in the same way you would respond to a problem that didn’t feel highly personal and emotionally charged (presumably by gathering information and collaboratively problem-solving).

2. Make it easy for your boss to give you feedback. As much as you don’t enjoy receiving critical feedback, your boss probably likes giving it even less; most managers feel awkward about delivering criticism, and some actively dread or avoid it. Your boss is likely to find you an absolute delight to work with if you make this easy on her, by doing things like actively soliciting feedback via questions like “Do you have thoughts on how I could do X better?” And of course, don’t get upset or defensive when you get criticism, which will just reinforce any discomfort your boss had about delivering it in the first place.

3. Pay attention to your boss’s “themes.” Most managers have certain hot buttons or categories of things that they particularly care about – whether it’s responsiveness time, how to play to a particular political sensitivity, or budget issues. By paying attention to the things that your boss asks about most often or most closely manages you on, you can often draw larger lessons about the sorts of things that she’ll care about in the future. You can then use that knowledge to proactively address those things before she needs to ask about them.

4. Accept your manager’s idiosyncrasies with grace. Most people, including managers, have a few weird preferences that might seem annoying or strange to others. For example, you might have a manager who wants everything printed in Courier 12 without exception, or who insists on talking face-to-face about every little matter rather than using email. You could roll your eyes or push back or try to sneak in a different font, but by simply rolling with this type of thing than making it clear you think it’s odd or ridiculous, you’re likely to earn your manager’s gratitude. (And you will be tremendously grateful for employees who do this for you when you’re the manager.)

5. Don’t get frustrated when you disagree. If your manager’s perspective is different from yours, don’t focus persuading her to see things your way or get frustrated by the disagreement; instead, focus on figuring out why you see things so differently. Do you have information that she doesn’t, and which might change her perspective? Or does she have information that you don’t have, or is she prioritizing something different than you are?

6. When you’re confused, anxious, or concerned by something your manager says or does, ask about it. Too often, people stew silently rather than simply broaching the topic and getting it resolved. For example, if you noticed your manager seemed uncomfortable with a topic you raised in your last meeting, don’t second-guess and speculate about why. Instead, just say something like, “I thought you seemed hesitant when I brought up X last week. Do you want me to approach that differently?” Other helpful language to have in your pocket:

  • “I realized I wasn’t sure what you meant by X – can you tell me more about that?”
  • “I might be misreading this, but do you have any concerns about how I’m handling X?”
  • “You said X yesterday, and it made me worried about what it means for the Y project.”

7. Most importantly, be on top of your own realm. Do what you say you’re going to do (by when you say you’re going to do it), spot problems and address them proactively, don’t let things fall through the cracks, and give your manager peace of mind that if you say you’re handling something, it will be handled well. If you’re someone your manager can count on, you’ll definitely find that your manager is happier and you’ll probably find it easier to work with her.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 16 comments… read them below }

  1. LBK

    #6 is so critical. There’s this oddly pervasive fear of talking to managers like humans – such as asking questions when you don’t understand something. The percentage of managers who are actually going to react badly when you do that is extremely minimal, and even for those that do I’d say it’s still better to try and seek clarity than silently guess at their motives and potentially invoke even more ire if you guess incorrectly.

  2. Amber Rose

    My supervisor is pretty irritated with me and my billion doctors appointments think. I caught the tail end of her complaining to our accountant last week. Some things just can’t be helped.

    1. LBK

      I think it can be helpful to separate out personal frustration with situational frustration. Even if your manager is sympathetic to you on a personal level and is willing to be flexible with your schedule as a result, it can still put a strain on them and the department. The frustration isn’t necessarily at you (“it’s so annoying that Amber is doing this”) but at having to deal with the situation (“it’s stressful to try to accommodate this need and still make sure my team gets all their work done”).

      Ideally they would just accept that it’s part of being a manager and be able to roll with it (particularly when it comes to unavoidable medical issues) but I don’t necessarily blame a manager for being frustrated with a situation like that as long as they’re not directing it at the employee.

      Or maybe your manager is actually frustrated with you for having a medical issue, in which case she’s just a jerk.

      1. Amber Rose

        We have a lot of people on vacation/one person fired and she’s taken on a ton of extra work, so she’s probably just tired and stressed. I don’t hold that against her at all, rather I feel guilty that I can’t do more to alleviate her workload. I’d love to step up now but there’s just no way.

        1. Ann O'Nemity

          Sometimes it helps to just acknowledge the issue and if possible, identify some solutions. Such as, “I know my frequent doctor appointments are causing some inconvenience, and I appreciate the support I’ve gotten from you and the team. In the meantime, I’m also doing X, Y, Z to alleviate the workload.”

  3. The Other Dawn

    As a manager, I can say that #7 carries the most weight with me. That’s what helps me sleep well at night.

    The importance of having capable people I can trust to get the job done right and on time was driven home when I attended a banking management school. The final project was a bank simulation. Each group had to create and run a fictitious bank; I was the CEO of mine. I quickly learned how important it is to have people that can be trusted to do what they’re supposed to be doing and are on top of things. It definitely opened my eyes to certain people at the real bank for which I worked; it was pretty clear that someone people couldn’t be trusted to do their work without a ton of mistakes or letting important things fall through the cracks.

    1. Ann O'Nemity

      I agree. Especially if the employee is being proactive about their area and not just doing the minimum assigned tasks.

  4. Cat

    I’ve accepted my boss’s insane preference for double justified documents, but I’ve not yet given in on capitalizing the word after a colon.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian

      My boss preferred double-justified documents, too. I don’t like to type the document with justification on, because it drives me crazy to see the text spacing squirming and moving about as I type. So I work with the document left-justified, and if my boss sees me, he always reminds me that he wants the text justified. He never listens when I tell him that turning on full justification is the last thing I do to the completed document.

      1. Wanna-Alp

        Does he listen if you tell him that it drives you crazy to see the text squirming as you type?

        (Sympathies, by the way, it would drive me nuts too!)

  5. JJ

    This article was timely. I just started a very high pressure job with a new boss. Thanks for the tips.

  6. OneWomanShow

    Great list of suggestions, Alison!

    One issue that I find myself needing help with is how my boss deals with his frustration. He often blows up–usually via an email with all caps, aggressive language and tons of exclamation points–and then acts as though nothing transpired when you next engage him.

    This truly throws me for a loop because I don’t know if the issue is truly resolved or not. In my mind, he may still be holding frustration and planning to release it in the near future. It makes me reluctant to talk with him, and he actually called me out for avoiding him after a recent very strongly worded email.

    Thoughts?

  7. NicoleK

    I’m doing everything on this list….but I have a feeling that I’m about to become her problem child. New coworker isn’t working on anything I need her to do. I’ve brought it up twice with my supervisor. The first time-I got shot down. The second time-was about two weeks ago and nothing came out of it. I’m starting to check out…

  8. hbc

    Oh, number six. After a year, I finally have people overcoming their training that questions are bad. I may be surprised by the question, but usually because people apparently worked in terrible environments before, so “Are we getting paid for the off-site, all-day meeting?” was something I never imagined hearing.

    You might not like the answer, but I’ll give it to you respectfully. Even if you just asked me to have a public dressing down of your team lead based on her asking you not to adjust the air conditioner setting–in which case I’ll just quietly bang my head on my desk after you leave.

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