Working relationships: 8 ways things can turn icy with your boss

By Robert Half on 12th December 2014

As a professional, your working life will be all the less complicated - and enjoyable for that matter - if you're able to develop a strong working relationship with your boss. Failing to see eye-to-eye with the person in charge - whether they are a director, a line manager or a team leader - puts you on the back foot, making it difficult for you to perform to the best of your abilities. If relations turn sour, you can quickly find yourself skating on thin ice with your current employer.

There may be times in business where the person in command just isn't up to the job. They might be weak, indecisive, unfair or even duplicitous - whichever way, it makes it difficult for them to lead effectively. But you can't just assume it's your manager's fault when things go wrong - are you entirely sure you're not the one to blame?

Every employee has a responsibility to behave professionally at all times - performing the tasks required of them, adhering to the culture of their organisation and respecting the chain of command. Alas, this doesn't always happen - and a bad working relationship with your boss is the end result. It isn't a good move; alienating your boss is by no means the way to achieve career development.

As such, it's worth thinking about some of the ways you might be making the wrong impression. Here are eight ways to annoy, and potentially even ruin the working relationship with your boss that you have now:

1. Undermine decisions

Managers have difficult decisions to make - some they will get right, some they will get wrong. You should avoid rejecting instructions and publicly criticising them. If you feel unable to 'go with the flow', then have a quiet word in private. Treat your boss in the same you would expect to be treated.

2. Criticise the organisation

In a similar vein, it isn't appropriate to publicly lambaste your organisation or employer - whatever your grievance. Doing so can have a negative impact on team morale and motivation, the relationship with your boss, as well as your individual prospects. You might just wreck your chances of a promotion..

3. Suck up

Sometimes the positivity can go a little too far. If you're obviously brown-nosing your boss - vocally approving their decisions, 'liking' their social media posts and offering them endless cups of tea - your efforts could have the opposite effect. It's best to just focus on doing a great job, and get noticed for your performance.

4. Complain too much

If you spend all day complaining - about your clients, technology, office supplies, colleagues, the weather and so on, the misery act will become very tiresome, very quickly. Sometimes, if you're unable to say anything positive or constructive, it's best to just keep your head down.

5. Reject change

If new systems, policies and processes are introduced, or new technology is rolled out, it will be for a reason. Responding positively to change, and embracing the new direction, is important. Employees who persist with outmoded ways of working, out of stubbornness or fear, can make life difficult for others.

6. Dominate colleagues

If you're the only voice that ever gets heard in team meetings and collaboration sessions, the chances are you are dominating your colleagues. They need to be given chance to speak and share their ideas. The loudest person in the room is rarely the wisest, so it sometimes pays to take a step back to remain on your colleagues good side.

7. Constantly self-promote

Your boss is constantly assessing you through performance appraisals, based on your quality of work, achievements and all-round contribution. They know how good or bad you are, so switch off the personal PR machine - it won't make any difference. By constantly telling the world how brilliant you are, you might end up making yourself look silly.

8. Reject feedback

Part of your manager's role is to carry out performance reviews and provide updates on your progress. If they provide constructive criticism, it's important to accept it and take it onboard - even if you question some of its validity. Adopting a defensive stance when given or asking for feedback will test the ice and relationship with your boss, who is simply trying to get the best out of you.

In summary

The chances are, at some stage in your career, you'll manage to annoy and tarnish the relationship with your boss in some way or another. And in all likelihood, they will do the same to you. This is only natural in business, and life in general, as everyone has different traits and characteristics, strengths and weaknesses.

Isolated incidents or issues aren't necessarily a problem - they can be dealt with, or even overlooked, for the benefit of your working relationship. But if there is consternation on a number of different fronts, then it's a different matter.

It's important to consider whether your behaviour may contribute to the friction, and think about how the problem can be alleviated. It may not take much to address the issue, fit in a little better to your team, and lay the foundations for a healthier working relationship. As you look to develop your career, this is all-important.

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