Prescription – What to do when your boss doesn’t like you

This entire month we’ve tackled an all-too-common dysfunction – “I don’t think my boss likes me.” Think back to the glory days of middle school or high school when you had a crush on that special someone. Remember that moment when you wondered, “do they like me back?” And remember what happened?  It was all downhill from there. Your mind spun in circles wondering what’s going on, analyzing every little action he or she did or didn’t take. Unfortunately, when we believe our boss doesn’t like us, we are prone to many of the same spirals. But before we get too far down those paths, let’s take a step and assess what’s going on.

Diagnosing the Problem

Does your boss really not like you or is it all in your head? Consider some of the following tell-tale signs:

  • “The vague performance review”– If you are getting vague poor reviews with the only rationale being “your attitude” or “your approach” needs to change, while there is the possibility that those are true, there is also a good chance that your boss simply doesn’t like you.
  • “The demotion”– If you’ve been inexplicably demoted, this may be another sign your boss doesn’t like you. Consider if it’s your approach or who you’ve been associating with that may have triggered their opinion of you.
  • “The cold shoulder”– If you can’t get any time with your boss despite your best efforts, be worried – very worried. Even the most insensitive bosses will show a minimum level of effort to meet with their employees upon request. Consider 30 minutes every two weeks as a minimum level of contact – anything under that and your boss may be avoiding you on purpose.
  • “Not being asked to prom / rejection”– If your boss starts to play favorites and it’s not you, be concerned. Research shows that when a boss has a favorite, they pick them to fill an open position 98% of the time. Notice if you aren’t getting the invitations and opportunities that someone in your position “should” be getting. This may be a big red flag that you could end up home permanently on Friday nights.

For more on diagnosing the problem, here’s the full article.

Treating the Problem

There are some excellent “Do’s” and “Don’ts” for getting your boss to like you. Consider the following:

  • Focus on your work – A great strategy to get your boss to like you – get your work done consistently well and on time. Shocking, I know.
  • Add value in every interaction with your boss – In every interaction with your boss (casual conversations in the hall, meetings in his or her office, etc…) look to be adding value. What do I mean by that? Ask good questions. Provide updates. Don’t waste his or her time with a rambling story about your golf game that weekend.
  • Look out for your boss – Be on the lookout for things that might help or hurt your boss and let he or she know. They’ll appreciate the fact that you’ve “got their back” and will likely return the favor. Just be careful to not make up those problems just to get in his or her good graces. That kind of manipulation will eventually swallow you whole.
  • Dress like your boss –Bosses do care about “how” things get done. Notice your boss’ style and try to modulate your style to fall in line with how he or she approaches work. The same goes for attire. If he or she is business casual at work, I would not recommend coming into the office in torn jeans and a retro Motley Crue tee shirt.

For all the things you “Don’t” want to do to get your boss to like you, check out this list.


It may come to this. You’ve done everything and despite your best efforts, your worst fears are realized. Your boss not only doesn’t like you, but you have a giant target on your back. Time for drastic measures.

Option 1: Wait it out. If your boss is that bad, they will likely burn bridges. Their days may be numbered. Keep your head down, avoid him / her at all costs and hold out for them to be “cut out.”

Option 2: Get out. Get yourself a game plan, begin to network and “cut yourself out of the problem.” But remember, it’s always easier to get a job when you’ve got a job. Leaving without a plan is the equivalent of trying to perform open heart surgery on yourself. Sure there’s a chance you’ll survive, but I really don’t like those odds.

Life is easier when you know your boss likes you. Assess the situation, work the relationship and see if you can turn it to a positive. If not, it may be time for surgery, but in the end, that’s a much better option than working for someone who’s just not that into you.

Next Up (next month’s dysfunction):

“My team member has a bad attitude.” Got an employee or a co-worker who’s attitude sucks? This next “Dysfunction of the Month” is for you.  Stay tuned!  A whole month of bad attitudes… I feel rowdy already.

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  1. Brandon Smith says:

    This is a definite problem. First, I would go to your boss and explain the issue in broad terms. Explain that your direct report either bypasses you or takes your ideas to your boss. As a result, it is becoming difficult for you to manage this individual. Ask your boss to decline meetings with your direct report if you are not present for a period of 2 months. This will provide you a better handle on your direct report’s performance. After that discussion, go to your direct report and explain that he needs to direct all of his issues and concerns through you. You are his manager and that is what you are tasked with doing. Anything he does outside of that will prohibit you from doing your job.

    These conversations will set the stage for what you need to do, but your direct report will not likely take to this very well. You’ll need to make sure you bring plenty of positive feedback and meet with him regularly. However, at the first sign of him not following your guidance, you need to write him up and contact HR.

    Good luck!

  2. Brandon Smith says:

    You are in a difficult position, for sure. Focusing on your question, “how do you present your work to give little room for criticism?”, I do have some thoughts. Namely, the key here is to clarify his expectations as much as possible. Consider asking the following fantastic clarifying questions:
    – Before I get started, I want to make sure I get you what you need. How do you plan to use what I am going to provide you? How much detail do you need?
    – Are there any examples of “perfect” reports / documents related to this that you have received that you could provide to me as an example? It is important to me that I get you something that meets your needs.
    – Are there individuals on your team today (or in the past) that are particularly skilled at providing this type of report? If so, who are they?
    – Help me understand what “perfect” would look like for this report. What would you need and how would you need it delivered to get to that level?

    Try those and you should be closer to your answer. Good luck!


  3. Kevin Disbro says:

    My old employer that rode me out on one of those PIP scams – new boss with a “night of the long knives” attitude has my voice greeting on my old direct line with my cell number? I still get customers calling with tech issues. I try to help them and then let them know I’m not there any more. It does not even transfer to someone else just goes to VM. It’s been 3 months and they even went so far as to contest my unemployment thats now in appeal. Can they just continue to use my likenss without my permission? I received a number of letters from customers praising my work over the years and I was well respected in the field but if a person was so bad that they needed harassed out the door why would you continue to use their likeness?

  4. Brandon Smith says:

    First, my disclaimer: I do not have a law degree nor did I ever attend law school. I am married to a lawyer, however. 🙂 All that being said, it doesn’t take a person with a law degree to know you’ve got an argument. First, you are doing work on their behalf (that they are sending you – the most important point) without compensation. If you took them to court, you would likely win on that point alone. Second, yes, you have property of your likeness. That they can’t take that from you nor can they profit off of that (I seem to recall a recent lawsuit in which former NCAA basketball players sued a video game company and won on using their likenesses but received no compensation). Assuming you do not want to take this to court, I would recommend you get an attorney to draft a “cease and desist” order and have it sent to the company. If they ignore it and continue on their current path, it simply makes your case stronger. Good luck!

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