Okay…did you perk up or cringe when you read the title of this post? Unfortunately, I imagine many of you cringed…but perhaps a moment later you perked up with the flicker of hope that you might find answers for improving your relationship with the person who directs your daily work life.

Relationships with bosses can range from beloved mentor to feared and despised ogre. Hopefully, we’ve all had a boss that we looked up to and valued as a teacher and role model. But far more often, I hear of people who’ve had experiences at the ogre end of the spectrum.

So what’s up with bosses? And why do so many of us have difficult relationships with them? I believe there are a number of reasons.

First of all, there is a fascinating phenomenon that involves the recreation of family dynamics in the workplace. Many of my coaching clients who have struggled with their boss, found that the relationship closely resembled a difficult relational pattern they had with one of their parents.

Does this sound familiar? Have you ever had the experience of feeling triggered by your boss in a way that reminds you of what drove you crazy about a family member? Usually we are reminded of our relationship with mom or dad, but it can also be a sibling or other family member who played an important role in our early life. All our relationships contain positive and negative aspects. It’s just that the negative aspects seem to be what we experience more intensely since they cause us pain.

Then there’s the general “authority figure” aspect of the relationship with a boss that plays itself out differently for each of us. Of course, mom and dad (and sometimes siblings) were the first authority figures in our lives. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing – just the reality of  being an itty bitty thing dependent on a big person who gets to tell you what to do.

Our personal history and relationship to authority figures seems to play a key role in how we relate to a supervisor. If we had positive role models who guided and respected us, it’s likely we will find that same dynamic with the people we work for. And likewise, if we were subjected to severe criticism or abuse as a young person, we will more often than not, end up with a boss who has similar characteristics to that person from our past.

Since I have seen this pattern so many times with myself and my clients, I do believe we somehow subconsciously “find” these people. But a question I continue to have is this: “How much of this dynamic is there from the get-go and how much do we provoke our feared behaviors in the other person through our own behavior?” In other words what is the role of our expectations and reactions?

I ask this because in observing myself in various relationships, I’ve become aware that I indeed played a part in provoking the other person’s “disturbing” behavior. (disturbing to me, mind you, but what might possibly not have fazed someone else).

I’m not even going to mention vibrational levels and The Law of Attraction – that’s for another post. (okay, I did mention them but you’ll have to hold onto your seat until the topic comes around on the blog topic roulette wheel) 🙂

Pardon me if I’m getting a little “out there” in psychology-land, but I do believe all interpersonal dynamics are a two-way street. And it’s interesting to ponder our role in the tango.

So let’s get to the helpful part. Here are some tips for improving your relationship with your boss:

Things to Remember:

  • Your boss is likely doing the best she or he knows how
  • Many people in supervisory roles do not have great interpersonal skills and haven’t received the necessary training to manage people effectively
  • Managers may not feel confident in their position of authority, which can result in unproductive and misguided ways of directing their employees (micro-managing and being overly aggressive)

What to Do:

  • Try to have empathy for your boss and his or her personal history that might contribute to their negative characteristics
  • When you get triggered, try to take a moment to reflect and compose yourself before you say or do anything
  • Do your own personal development work to gain the self-awareness that will help you distinguish your issues from your bosses issues and enable you to better understand the dynamics
  • Learn assertiveness skills (so that you won’t react either submissively or aggressively)
  • Improve your communication skills to take responsibility for your feelings and express yourself clearly and cleanly
  • Work with a coach to help you learn the above mentioned skills and gain the awareness you need to better manage your professional life (one or two sessions might be enough to get you headed in the right direction).

In a future post I will go into greater detail about the specific skills that will help you get along better with your boss. Is that of interest to you?