Enterprise Software

10 ways to alienate your boss

If you and your boss aren't getting along, it could be all your boss's fault. Unless it's partly yours.

Many people believe that their relationship with their boss -- and possibly with any boss they'll ever have -- is going to be strained at best and contentious or dysfunctional at worst. Maybe they have narrow preconceptions (in-laws: all bad; bosses: all bad). Or perhaps they've had some horrible bosses and assume that's simply the way the world works.

But it's also possible that they're responsible for at least part of what's going wrong in the employee/boss equation. They may be new to the workforce and a little naïve or immature. Or they might be longtime employees who've fallen into patterns that have worn thin with their boss. If you know someone who has developed a few career-threatening habits, maybe this list will help them gain some self-awareness. I have seen every one of these behaviors over the years. I bet you have, too.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Tell your boss what you think he/she wants to hear

This is an understandable human tendency, and it's certainly not confined to the employee/boss relationship. Playing spin doctor may be socially expedient in some situations, an act of kindness in others. But in a working environment, you're not doing your boss any favors if you hold back on what's really going on. Any halfway astute boss is going to see right through you and perhaps resent you because you lacked the fortitude to deliver bad news or expected him or her to shoot the messenger.

2: Complain incessantly

I don't know anyone who doesn't complain at least some of the time -- and often with justification. It's okay to point out concerns and express dissatisfaction or frustration (or even weary resignation) from time to time, especially among peers. It's how we cope. But constantly whining or carping about how this or that person or policy or situation is making you suffer is likely to drive your coworkers crazy. And bringing those grievances to your boss is going to do three things, all of them bad: Get on your boss's nerves; convey the impression that you're incapable of addressing problems in a constructive way; desensitize your boss to anything you say, even when it's valid.

3: Cast your co-workers in a bad light

Some people go through life attempting to elevate themselves by denigrating the people around them. Even in a relaxed and harmonious workplace, those folks will probably surface and create discord occasionally. In a highly competitive or stressful environment, that kind of poison can turn an office into a snakepit. No (sane) boss wants either scenario. Your boss needs honest, actionable intelligence about staff, vendors, stakeholders, projects, and relationships -- not sniping character assassinations calculated for personal advancement.

4: Suck up

I know there are bosses out there who actually DO want their staff to suck up to them, offering false compliments and exhibiting fake interest and concern in their affairs. If that's your boss, and you have the stomach to play that game, more power to you. But for bosses who aren't swayed by all that hooey, sucking up is only going to insult them or piss them off.

5: Pretend to be on board with your assignments...

... and then tell everyone who will listen how stupid or unfair or unrealistic they are. Obviously, you don't want to be sullen or argumentative when your boss explains a task or project for you to take on. Nor do you want to whine to your boss indiscriminately (item #2). But it's okay to be honest and push back when you see legitimate problems with a particular job. Air your concerns at the outset and work toward a compromise or concession, if you feel that's warranted. Don't just smile and nod and slink off to your cube to marinate in unexpressed ire.

Another version of this problem involves accepting an assignment with a full understanding of how you're supposed to handle it -- and then doing whatever the hell you want. This may be a willful response -- an arrogant assurance that you know how things should be done, you do not intend to follow stupid instructions, and you know more than your boss about the requirements, the client, and the technology. Or it may be that you don't have the experience or resources to do it the way you were told, so you try to wing it. Neither approach works. In the first case, you'll appear insubordinate and untrustworthy. In the second, you'll appear inept.

6: Lie

This one goes a bit beyond putting a positive spin on a bad situation or telling bosses what they want to hear. We're talking about flat-out lying -- presenting false data, denying mistakes you've made, fabricating reasons for absences, and making excuses for late projects. Your boss is almost certainly going to see through you and -- just like the moral of a 1950s sitcom -- your problems will much larger than they would have been had you been honest in the first place.

7: Don't meet your commitments

If you can't be counted on to do what you say you'll do, you're going to create a huge amount of extra work for your boss. Not showing up for meetings, not completing tasks, promising solutions that don't happen, leaving work half done, ignoring client needs -- your boss is going to have to follow along behind you to try to keep you on track, clean up the mess, and do damage control.

8: Go to your boss's boss to discuss your concerns

Chain of command varies drastically from one organization to the next, so it's tough to generalize here. But even if you work for One Big Happy Family, it's a good idea to resolve issues at the local level, if possible. Let your boss decide whether and how to escalate matters. Going over your boss's head shows a lack of faith in his or her abilities, knowledge, judgment, and influence. Of course, if the problem IS your boss, you may have to do an end run to get help with a bad situation. But when that's not the case, it's more efficient, honest, and respectful to approach your boss first.

9: Ask your boss to affirm every small action or decision you make

If you're just starting out in a position, you'll naturally need a little handholding. Best case, your peers will help you out and show you the ropes. And your boss -- at least a good boss -- should be available to answer your questions and provide direction. But once you know your job, leave the nest already. Cultivate an effective level of independence. If you can't move forward on anything without asking your boss to green-light your actions, you're quickly going to become a liability. I'm not suggesting you become a loose cannon (item #5), arrogant and immune to advice and guidance. But if you're good at your job, you shouldn't need constant validation or reassurance.

10: Badger your boss for special treatment

Call it a disproportionate sense of entitlement, a childish need for recognition, an egocentric conviction that your needs come first -- the many flavors of the hopelessly self-important. If you're constantly asking or expecting your boss to make exceptions or confer special favors, you're being a pain in the ass.


About

Jody Gilbert has been writing and editing technical articles for the past 25 years. She was part of the team that launched TechRepublic and is now senior editor for Tech Pro Research.

24 comments
phscnp
phscnp

I agree with geek49203 that there are some unique aspects of our environment and I would love to see more about those aspects. Two areas in particular. 1. How do full-time employees work effectively with contractors. 2. How do contractors work effectively with FTEs. How do FTEs get maximum benefit from contractors? How do contractors get the job done and get invited back?

alex.zvargulis
alex.zvargulis

It seems very much like Dilbert's PHB101 to me :-)

DesolateProphet
DesolateProphet

Let me offer a number eleven, failing to see the vision. I have completed and participated in many projects. Some of these have been enormously successful for the company and has changed our position strategically from an IT perspective. However, if you declare a project the “worse decision the company has made”, you may have discredited yourself. Plus, you tell me that you do not have sense of vision or really understand some of the forces at work with technology. You just may be stuck in your thinking. The forward thinkers and innovators are the ones that are rewarded. So, watch holding onto the status quo it could cost you.

geek49203
geek49203

IT people are doomed to a life where we are managed by people who couldn't do our job, and in fact, have a hard time describing what is we do. Often we are paid more than our boss as well. But, the other managers thought they had "management skills" so they got the job. Conversely, sometimes the alpha geek rises to management -- where they quickly exhibit the Peter Principle. They lack organizational skills, management skills, etc. If we are contractors -- most of us are now -- then often we don't get the best manager in the company. That is especially true with project managers, and again, they have no clue how to do what we do, but they feel the need to micromanage. We are also the first to be fired in a downsizing, and first to be hired when something breaks. Therefore, we are not exactly scared about the prospect of losing our job -- been there done that got a better job in a week, etc. So yes, while these "10 ways" is a great start, we need to think about the very special ways that IT geeks seem to run afoul of management, and at least think about how to manage that part of our lives.

sparent
sparent

Sorry, Adam. You only have one boss. That's the person who gives you your performance review, bonus, and/or pay raise. That's also the person that will call you on a Friday morning to tell you that your position has been abolished. Anybody else is just a stakeholder. Yes, you have to work within a team and with different team leaders. They are not your bosses.

setanta5
setanta5

I would put at the top of the list: poor or infrequent communication. If your manager doesn't know the status of your work (s)he cannot manage expectations of customers or plan project work.

Adam_12345
Adam_12345

How about having many bosses? If you have more than one boss, what then?

Kingpin.187
Kingpin.187

Honestly, you're not just "alienating" your boss when you cast your peers in a bad light.

VMillan
VMillan

At the start of your article I was thining it was a joke... after some lines I noticed you were talking seriously. Do not get me wrong. The article is great... if you have the right boss: unfortunately I have worked in companies and with bosses where the right attitude was exactly what you advice against. Or maybe I shouldn't read Dilbet's strips. Regards, Vicente

rmerchberger
rmerchberger

michelinus got in #11, so here goes: #12: Punch your boss in the face. I'm sure we've all had (at least) one that really, really did need it... ;-) Laterz!

ibmtech
ibmtech

There are a lot of people in the business world that could benefit from reading this! Great article!

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

NOT to tell them what they want to hear, to NOT lie about how good they are, to NOT suck up because you have a little more integrity than that, to NOT mention to anybody that they are a waste of space, just take a crap on their desk. Might as well... Do it up brown as it were. :)

xcav8r369
xcav8r369

Some of my working environments have been Hell because I Refuse to do 1,4,5,6 & 9. Having an entire crew of coworkers who make a career of incessantly performing the entire list, until those of us who actually WORK (thus making them look bad) are the ones who are let go.....seems to be the "way things are", the majority of the time. Ur list iz rong >^o.o^

michelinus
michelinus

Great article. There's always No. 11 - Expecting your boss to be an effective boss. I'm sure that most of us have worked for a Manager who simply doesn't care for standards, quality or team harmony. The quickest way to alienate a Manager like this is to expect them to behave as a good boss should e.g. effectively, smartly or even to provide inspration to subordinates. This is a sure fire way to alienate yourself from them.

darpoke
darpoke

Hi, I've been reading TR for a couple of years now and don't think I've read any of your blogs before. I wanted to say I really enjoyed this one - I usually find '10 things...' lists a little hit-and-miss* but this one was fully fleshed-out and extensive with accurate and informative points for each item, and I really enjoyed the writing style. Thank you. *My use of 'hit-and-miss' was no accident! I glanced at a few of the blogs tagged with your name, as I was curious to see if I have indeed read any of your posts before, and I happened upon the grammar blog from 2008. I know it's off-topic and years after the actual debate but I believe the phrase hit-and-miss is accurate, for this reason: it describes the *actual behaviour* of the concept to which it is applied. Obviously it's a boolean variable - it either hits or misses - but the phrase hit-and-miss conveys that it actually *does* both. That is, while it is successful sometimes, it also fails. This is distinct from being either a 'hit' (it works completely and consistently) or a miss (it fails completely and consistently). I think that grants it value as a descriptor.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

there's a difference. And what are they really saying. They probably aren't disagreeing with "We wish to be the most recommended provider in the market place" They might be disagreeing with that best way to do that is to switch to Ruby On Rails or Go Cloud, or do everthing on their iPhone as BuyYourOwnDevice proposal. Course none of that matters because for many the real problem is, a mere pleb dared to disagree with their superior.

avclarke
avclarke

This is not isolated to IT. It can be applied to ANY workplace. I'm not in IT and I have this exact situation.There are managers who embrace employees who do all of the above. They hand out promotions to their friends and those in their cliques, all of their cronies. It will not end until presidents, ceo's, managers etc. recognise employeed based on the quality of their work, knowledge base and skill sets. This is very demoralizing to hard working employees who give 150% every day and work off the clock without compensation. Can you tell this is a burning issue for me?

avclarke
avclarke

You're right Some managers prefer the employees do these exact things. They are they ones who get ahead and are given promotions, even if the know nothing about the area! Been there, lived that!

eventfarm
eventfarm

Using poor grammar and punctuation as well as using text-speak in a forum, might be the real reason you "look bad".

Dyalect
Dyalect

Coming to work and doing a good job is not priority anymore I guess. If you want your shoes shined go back to the 50s. Bosses make decisions. Employee execute them.

Wyrmlord
Wyrmlord

too many times have I seen an article discussion degenerate into a semi-literate verbal brawl. This particular reply, however, is complete, extensive, grammatically correct, and deliberately non-grammatical where needed. A joy to read, then :-)

darpoke
darpoke

It's nice to be nice. I do try to encompass as many of those qualities as I can when posting online, as it seems far too many folk are content to abandon them in favour of ill-considered personal attacks (on complete strangers, for that matter). Internet fora, like the world, are as wonderful as we make them - and as awful as we allow them to be. That said, I'm about to begin a foray into an OS war so we'll see how long my good intentions last... It was hard resisting the temptation to exclaim 'First post!' :-)