A reader wrote to say “Please help. My boss doesn’t understand me, and it’s making me hate my job.” Well, my first reaction was to feel really bad for this person. That’s a horrible way to have to face each day. And I certainly can relate to that feeling.
But it also got me thinking. There are plenty of horrible bosses out there, as I can attest to first-hand! And it’s pretty easy to blame them for our misery. But honestly, the burden is as much on us, as on our bosses. At least the burden of turning things around. Or at least trying.
Who can you change first?
Before you scream at me, let me explain. First of all, we are the only people we can change for sure. So that makes us a good staring point. And what we think other people know, is not always what they know.
So, if a boss doesn’t understand you, it’s to your advantage to help them know who you are. And what you can do for them. This isn’t to say that they can’t change. Maybe they can.
But it sure isn’t fun waiting for someone else to make the first move. Especially if you’re the one who wants it now. Even if a better manager would know to make the effort, you don’t win by being right. You win by taking actions to help yourself.
Boss won’t even make the effort!
I’ve worked with many people who spend countless hours talking about not being understood. Or feeling invisible at work. And not ever being given a chance to show what they really can do.
But in my own life, there has never been a time when I didn’t see an opportunity to at least try. Did it always go well? No. Did I always wind up liking the job or my boss? No. Did I always get what I wanted because of my efforts? Absolutely not. But often I did.
Inertia — just doing nothing and hoping things change — will only help resentment pile up. And emotions do collect. So, whatever job I have, I try to create and add to improving my own work experience.
Sometimes it is about staying tuned in to what’s happening and waiting for the right opportunity. Or learning some needed skill you enjoy — and then helping your boss know about it.
And that’s what I wanted the person who wrote to really understand.
Actions you can take checklist
You are the one that will benefit most from making sure your boss does understand you. So what can you do to help make sure that happens?
- Establish am ongoing relationship with your boss, finding out what they expect of you And letting them know, respectfully, what you want and need.
- Go above and beyond your regular duties to add value to the department and company.
- Volunteer for new responsibilities or projects.
- Ask your boss how things are going. And offer to help if they are swamped or just can use an extra hand.
- Stop by just to say hello once in a while. Share a quick story (not a complaint or problem) if circumstance allows. Bosses are often busy, but they are also people.
- Don’t just come running to your boss when things go wrong. If you do, you get associated with being a negative person. Bosses need to know when things go right also.
- If something does go wrong, let your boss know — rather than hiding it. And come prepared with possible solutions.
- Also, take time to understand your boss and what they are going through. There’s always another side to offer perspective.
A few more thoughts
How much does a boss really need to understand you? When I hear a phrase like that, it reminds me of childhood stuff like “my parents didn’t understand me.” And so often, something that happens to us today actually triggers an early memory or need.
But a boss only has to know you well enough to get you to do your work. And hopefully provide an environment where you can thrive and grow. Since they aren’t your mother or father and since you are an adult, you are capable of helping improve your own work experience.
It’s not up to bosses to understand us and make everything better with a band-aid and a cookie. (Although that would be nice.) If we don’t want to be feel like victims, it’s up to us to learn to work smart. And to add as much as we can, as best as we can, to our own jobs and careers.
So to the person wondering why your boss didn’t understand you … I wish you all the luck in your next job when you find it. But this time, don’t worry about whether they understand you or not — just dive in and make that job and work experience the best you can!
About the author…
Ronnie Ann, founder of Work To the Wise and Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development, as well as her many adventures as a serial job seeker.
[Article updated in 2020]
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