When you and your boss don’t get along

Bad relationship with your boss? Here’s how to fix it.
By Teri Saylor

Editor's note: This article is based on a JofA podcast featuring Maureen Hoersten.

During the workweek, you spend nearly as much time with your office colleagues as you do with your own family, and when your relationship with your manager is not ideal, it can have a negative effect on the quality of your work, attitude, and personal life, according to Maureen Hoersten, the COO of LaSalle Network, a national staffing, recruiting, and culture firm headquartered in Chicago.

A common sign of a deteriorating relationship with your manager might be disengagement. "Or it could even get as far as aggressive or short communication," Hoersten said.

If you notice tension building up between you and your boss, it may be time to dig into your relationship to find the root of the problem. Hoersten shared a few ways to create a more positive work environment when you and your boss are not on the same wavelength.

Strive for mutual understanding. If you think problems with your boss are festering, look beneath the surface. Your negative feelings may be coming from troubles in your personal life. "Maybe you've had some issues with your family or your health, or something else completely out of the scope of your job, so you bring it with you to work. And so you may feel that something's going on with your boss when it's really inside of you," Hoersten said.

Or maybe your boss is having personal problems that you don't know about. You may think the disengagement and negativity are in response to something you've done, when really it is because your supervisor is having personal or professional issues.

"If you sense negativity, the most important thing you can do is set up a meeting or have a conversation with your boss and try to open up, be a little vulnerable, and you may find out where the problem is," she said.

Communicate and overcommunicate. Sometimes normal communication is not enough to get to the cause of the problems you are having with your boss. Overcommunicating could help the situation. For example, if you are working on a project with deadlines, rather than just turning in your deliverables on the specified days, you could set up checkpoints with your manager, email them updates, or send them quick voicemails with regular updates.

"Going above and beyond what you need to do, and exceeding expectations makes your boss believe you have projects under control, and gives them a sense of where those projects stand," she said.

Repair a damaged relationship. If you sense your relationship with your boss is going downhill, you must try to figure out what's wrong and then work on it, one piece at a time. "Sometimes it's just a matter of improving your attitude towards your role," Hoersten said. She recommends examining your behavior: Are you approachable? Do you communicate frequently enough? Do you do more than what's expected, come into the office a little bit earlier, or stay a little bit later to show you care?

She believes people can turn their relationships around. "You just have to realize how people communicate and make sure you're in alignment with your boss and their expectations," she said.

Know when it's time to move on. If your unhappiness is growing and you believe you've done everything possible to change your situation, including overcommunicating and meeting expectations, then it might be time to move on, Hoersten said. The same may be true if you keep asking your boss the same questions without any help or acknowledgment or results.

"If you've done everything you can, really put forth the effort, and made sure it's not something you're doing, then your workplace might not be the best place for you," Hoersten said. "Just remember, it doesn't mean you are a bad person, or that you can't change [things]. . . . for the better."

Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at

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