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Here's how to deal with a scary boss

Columnist Dave Conrad says approaching him with a sense of respect and commitment will go a long way in establishing a connection with him.

Ask Dave - Dave Conrad column mug
Ask Dave - Dave Conrad column mug

Dear Dave -- I started a new job at a highly respected company two months ago. I like all of the people that I work with except for my boss. He is loud, demanding and pushy. When he comes into my work area, I am scared to death to talk to him and show him what I can do for the company. My heart starts pounding and I am afraid I will be singled out and used as an example for how not to work. Help me. I want to get along with my boss. -- K

I may not be telling you anything new, but the most important relationship to get right when starting a new job is to establish a good relationship with your boss. No matter how many years you’ve worked and no matter how much experience you have, starting a new job is often stressful and difficult.

On top of your need to be proficient in your position and make friends (yes, I said friends) with your coworkers, and learn the do’s and don’ts of your job, you also need to know how to relate to your boss and address him the way he likes. Trust me, if your boss has any business and relationship-building experience, he may be more approachable than you think.

However, beware, of your fellow employees that may be “little minions” of your boss and will run and tell him things the employees (and you) said or did. Look for the coworkers who will be a guide for you telling you what would be good things to do and also things that you should never do or say.

Adapting to a new organization is often tough; though, there are many companies out there that are welcoming, receptive, and collaborative. Accordingly, you may be working for a company that is made up of many good leaders, and you shouldn’t judge the company by viewing only the inadequacies of your boss. The truth may be that your boss is under the microscope for causing good people to leave the company. It could be that if you “keep your nose clean” and wait it out, your boss problem may go away. However, you never know what a new boss may be like.

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Building bridges with your boss

We all know there’s no magical formula for improving our ability to get along – and work effectively – with our manager. It will help greatly if you think about the ways you should act and the questions you should ask him. I think you will find that your approaching him with a sense of respect and commitment will take you a long way in establishing a connection with him.

I believe that every manager wants a team that is ready to perform when needed – and does not need retraining every time problems occur, or goals must be achieved. Smart managers get to know their staff and just spend time checking to see how they are doing or if there is anything they may need. Look for opportunities to initiate a simple conversation with your boss and be friendly and serious about your work and what you can do to help your boss achieve goals.

Here is a rather simple idea: keep commitments and do what you say you will do and what you are supposed to do. I believe that even the most hardened managers will appreciate individuals and teams that get busy and get the job done. In the same vein, don’t try and cover up mistakes; tell your boss when you've made an error. But try and find solutions to the errors, so you don’t just stand there with a blank look on your face. You can also add what you have learned from the mistake so it won’t happen again.

Try to identify your boss's biggest worries and do some research and fact-finding to show your boss how your contributions can mitigate these concerns. Your boss has many problems and priorities. Show him how you can do your work to match his priorities. And make sure you show that you are concerned about the overall success of your department and company, not just about what you want and how you will appear.

Finally, ask for feedback and allow your boss to play the role of a teacher, coach, or mentor. I think every manager wants to demonstrate what they believe in and show what they can do. A solid relationship can be formed when you match your performance desires with the capabilities of your boss.

Contact Dave Conrad with questions or comments at conradd@augsburg.edu . Conrad is an associate professor of business at Augsburg University in Rochester.

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