two business women meeting talking about how to improve manager relationship

How to Improve Your Relationship with Your Manager

The relationship a person has with their manager or supervisor significantly influences how satisfied and engaged they are at work. Not getting along with your boss or feeling unsupported by them can be a considerable obstacle to your career growth and even harmful to your mental health.

The American Psychological Association found that 75% of Americans say their boss is “the most stressful part of their workday.” Another Gallup study found that one in two employees have left a job “to get away from their manager” at some point in their career.

You can’t fix a truly bad boss (nor should you have to). Fortunately, in most cases, managers just need a little guidance from you on how you prefer to work and be treated. So before throwing in the towel and leaving your team or company altogether, see if it’s possible to change the dynamics of your relationship for the better.

Read on for some constructive ways to handle different personalities, set boundaries, and help your boss understand what you need from them to thrive.

1. Bad managers are people too

Just because someone is an ineffective manager doesn’t mean they’re lazy or careless or a bad person. They are often overextended, overwhelmed, haven’t been properly trained, or haven’t had the chance to develop strong leadership skills. They may also just have a different leadership style or a conflicting personality to your own.

Art Markman, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas, recently wrote about this topic for the Harvard Business Review. Markman shared a few reasons why your relationship with your manager might be strained and some things you can try to save the relationship.

Here are three of those reasons:

You and your manager have conflicting personalities

Even the most agreeable person in the world can’t get along with everyone. We all have different personalities, communication styles, and preferences. If your personality conflicts with your manager’s, it can cause friction at work. 

According to Markman, one personality trait that can cause problems is conscientiousness, which reflects your motivation to complete tasks and follow rules. If you’re a very conscientious person and your boss is piling too many tasks on you, you may feel overwhelmed. You’re trying to get each task done to perfection, while your boss — who is less conscientious — just wants you to get through them quickly and doesn’t care quite as much about the quality.

Another trait that can cause friction is agreeableness, which indicates a desire to be well-liked. For example, if you are a more agreeable person than your manager, the way they communicate may feel less friendly than you prefer and can even make you worry that they don’t like you.

In this case, Markman recommends paying attention to how your manager treats other people. If they aren’t particularly warm with others either, you know that’s just their personality, and you shouldn’t take it personally. (If they’re treating you or others in an unkind or unprofessional way, this is a different situation and needs to be addressed.)

Your boss doesn’t help you prioritize

Markman notes that problems can occur when there’s a mismatch between what you think you should be working on and what your manager thinks you should be prioritizing. Even though you’re working hard, you may get negative feedback about your performance because your boss believes you’re working on the “wrong” things.

If this is the case, try bringing your to-do list to your next check-in with your manager so you can walk through your tasks together to determine which are most important. If you’re not having regular one-on-one meetings with your manager, this is another problem entirely. Make sure you ask for this time to align with your manager on priorities.

Your boss is more reactive than strategic

If you’ve ever worked for someone who is constantly changing their mind or shifting priorities, it can feel like you’re on a roller coaster that never stops. This is a sign that your manager is reacting (or in some cases, overreacting) to things that come up day to day instead of focusing on a more strategic, long-term plan. 

This is another situation in which regular check-ins are critical. As priorities shift, you’ll hear it from your manager directly and can prepare for the coming change. It’s also a good time to look at long-term goals together and remind your manager of what they had previously asked you to focus on. It may not prevent them from shifting priorities, but it’s a chance to remind them of the work they’ll be pulling you away from.

Learn to “manage up” effectively

A good thing to remember is that your relationship with your boss is a two-way street. While they may be “in charge,” that doesn’t mean you don’t have a say in how you work together and how you’re treated. 

According to Mary Abbajay, President and CEO of Careerstone Group and author of Managing Up: How to Move Up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss, “managing up” can help you improve your employee-manager relationship and make your work experience better.

“It is about learning how to work well with somebody who may work differently than you,” Abbajay told the Wall Street Journal. “When you manage up effectively, your relationship with your boss works for you, for your boss, and for the organization.”

She said there are three basic steps to managing up:

  1. Pay attention to who your boss really is. Observe them and take note of their work style, personality, and priorities.
  2. Assess yourself. Honestly consider your strengths, weaknesses, and how you show up at work. What is it really like to work with you?
  3. Think about how you will adapt your interactions. Once you know how you and your manager differ, you can adapt your interactions and control how you react to them.

Don’t be afraid to give your boss feedback (and ask for it)

It might seem a little scary at first, but giving your manager honest, constructive feedback can make a significant impact on your situation at work. Just be aware of their current situation and be sensitive to how your feedback is delivered. Find a time when you think they’re likely to be the most receptive. 

Be honest with your manager about any concerns you have and how they can best support you. Be sure to point out the positive things they’re doing as well.

Here’s an example: “I really like how you make time to meet with me every Friday morning to discuss what I’ve gotten done. Could we also set aside some time on Mondays to discuss priorities for the week? I want to make sure I’m always working on the right things.”

Remember to ask your manager for feedback too. This doesn’t come naturally to all bosses, and others may not realize you need to hear more regular feedback to continually improve. Ask specific questions about your work and have your manager help you identify any areas for growth. 

Just having these open conversations with your manager can bring things to light that you may not have realized and might help you improve your relationship going forward.