Work relationships can be a delicate balance, especially when it comes to that of the one between you and your boss. You aim to serve the team and them, but you want to find advancement for yourself as well. Sometimes things go sour along the way: Nearly a third, 28%, of people who quit their previous job say they left because of bad management, according to a Q1 Joblist survey of 18,617 job seekers.
"When you become a manager, no one really teaches you" how to do it, says Dr. Rosina Racioppi, CEO and president of mentoring network WOMEN Unlimited Inc., of the challenges bosses face in taking on their roles. She adds that, "oftentimes managers get confused. They're focused on the mechanics of the work and they lose sight of the humanics," or the human relations part of their roles.
If you're hitting snags with your boss, before you consider quitting, know there are ways to try to mitigate the problem. Here's what workplace experts recommend trying.
Start by asking, "how can we best work together?"
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Long before you encounter any problems, experts recommend getting clear on the parameters of your job.
"When I've worked with a new boss, I've always started with a conversation of, 'how can we best work together? What do you need from me?'" says Racioppi.
She recommends asking your boss about their top three priorities for the role, deadlines for one-off or ongoing projects, and how to best communicate with them. Keep that conversation going regularly so you're always up to date on what they need.
"If you are contributing and making their job easier," says Racioppi, "and you're being that crucial associate, then you're going to mitigate that tension that's causing the problem," maybe even before the problem occurs.
"Assess, 'what is this tension that's with my manager?'"
If, despite getting clarity on your role and working to hit those metrics, you're still coming across challenges with your manager, take a step back, and, "really assess, 'what is this tension that's with my manager?'" says Racioppi.
Is your boss giving you mixed messages about what's expected within your scope of work? Is their critical feedback unclear and hard to follow? Are they making it difficult for you to try new projects and grow in your role? Are they hard to pin down and get feedback from at all?
Think about the scenarios in which you've felt some tension, then home in on exactly what the challenge is that you're encountering.
Document the problem
Once you've figured out what the problem is, start documenting it. This will give you a sense of whether this behavior is a pattern or a momentary hiccup. It will also give you some proof that the problem is ongoing.
"Anytime you confront anybody with anything, people always want" to see examples of that behavior, says Carolyn Kleiman, career expert at ResumeBuilder.com. So start keeping tabs of what you find challenging to build up that evidence.
Keeping track of specific instances will also give you a chance to reflect on possible solutions. In the midst of a challenge, emotions run high. But taking a step back to reflect can give you a chance to assess the problem objectively and find solutions through this new lens.
"Don't criticize. Show appreciation."
Once you've collected a few specific examples, prepare to bring them up in your next one-on-one meeting. When you do, "don't criticize," says Gorick Ng, Harvard career adviser and author of "The Unspoken Rules." Instead, "show appreciation."
"Consider overusing the words, 'thanks, 'I appreciate,' 'I'm grateful for,' to set the stage," he says, and think about how they would apply with your boss. These can make whatever challenges you're bringing up more palatable and make it clear that you care about this relationship.
When you bring up some of the problems you've encountered, use framing like, "I've noticed that you do this," says Kleiman. "It would make my job easier if you did this instead." This framing helps to make it clear this conversation is not an attack on them. Instead, it's an attempt to help you do your job better.
"Assume positive intent"
Hitting hurdles with your boss can be incredibly frustrating, but as you approach resolving the problem, remember to "assume positive intent," says Ng.
"No manager wakes up in the morning thinking, 'how can I make my team's life as miserable as possible,'" he says. "It's, 'how can we get this work done and live a happy life.'" Keeping this in mind can ease tension on your side and make it easier to approach the situation overall.
If, however, despite your best attempts to smooth out the relationship, their behavior doesn't change, try to get a feel for what your colleagues are experiencing with your boss.
"Sometimes you do have to make others aware of your own plight because perhaps there are other people in a similar situation," says Kleiman. If you find there are more of you dealing with these challenges and that none of you have been successful in helping your boss to change their behavior, "I think that's something to note and escalate as a group," she says.
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