Signs your boss doesn’t like you

Does your boss like you? And what if he or she doesn’t? What could that mean for you and your career? Simply put – really bad stuff could be in store for you. The horror stories I have heard from those whose bosses didn’t like him or her are astounding. Devastating performance reviews with no basis, demotions, transfers, being undermined at every turn, long-hours, you name it. Imagine your worst nightmare and like a bad horror flick on the Syfy channel, I’ve seen it made a reality. So, what are the signs that your boss doesn’t like you?

Consider these tell tale signs:

  • “The vague performance review”– A good friend of mine is a rock star at what she does. She routinely posts the highest sales figures every year for her role and has done so for nearly ten years straight. Every sales contest, she wins. And to top it all off, her co-workers love her. She routinely hosts conference calls with all of her colleagues where they share best practices, coordinate their efforts, etc… The problem – her boss doesn’t like her. So, when she recently got her annual performance review, she received “below expectations” scores throughout with no concrete evidence to support his evaluation. His only rationale was “she needs to show more enthusiasm.” As one of the most enthusiastic people I know, this absolutely set her off.The TakeawayIf 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”– Another common sign that your boss doesn’t like you is the dreaded demotion. For political reasons or perhaps because of a lack of evidence, your boss may not be willing to fire you even though he or she may not like you. Instead, they may choose to make your life miserable by demoting you significantly below your role. This happened to Brad. Brad was second in command at his office. His boss had promised to take care of him… until he left for a better gig. The new boss decided right away that anyone who was part of the past regime must be “bad.” Brad had always been a loyal and committed employee and had only worked for that company his entire career (25+ years) so the new boss didn’t want to cause a political uproar by firing him. Instead, he chose to reorganize the office and moved Brad from second in command to sales support manager – a role Brad had held 20 years earlier in his career.The Takeaway – If you were associated with someone your boss doesn’t like, he / she may likely decide you too must not be likeable. Watch out for snap judgments based on who you are associated with.
  • “The cold shoulder”– This is a tricky one. Sometimes when we don’t hear from our boss, it’s a sign that things are o.k. However, if you go weeks at a time not seeing or hearing from your boss this could be a sign that they simply don’t want to spend any time with you. Beth had that situation. She had a regularly scheduled call with her boss every Monday morning when they began working together. As it became clearer and clearer to both of them that they did not see eye-to-eye, the calls started getting postponed by her boss. One day, Beth realized it had been nearly two months since they had talked. The next call from her boss was to talk about her outplacement package.The Takeaway – 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”– From not being invited to significant meetings / events to being humiliated in public, this form of visible rejection is clear to everyone in the office.  Think of it as your worst high school nightmare. Miguel got the unfortunate opportunity to enjoy this first hand. It was clear to Miguel that his new manager immediately clicked with one of Miguel’s direct reports from day one. Not only had his new boss and his direct report both attended the same university, but they even came from the same home town. Despite those initial commonalities, Miguel had no idea how bad it was going to get. Miguel was repeatedly “left back at the office” as his boss opted to take his direct report over Miguel to every senior meeting, conference and “career accelerating” event. In the end, Miguel’s boss was promoted and guess who took his place? Yep, Miguel’s direct report became Miguel’s boss overnight.The Takeaway – 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.

There you have it.  Those are the big warning signs that your boss isn’t into you. Watch out. If any of those have happened or are currently happening to you, the first step is to name them for what they are – possible threats to you and your career. Next up, we’ll tackle what you can do if you think your boss is playing favorites… and you’re not the favorite. Always a tricky place to be in…

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13 replies
  1. MJ Shoots says:

    I have 23 years with a top 100 corp in the US. I was promoted 8 years ago as a sales manager in a top metro district. My performance and success were both good and proven. My boss who promoted me received a promotion 3 months later. My new boss (his replacement) was a chosen one as our CEO when he was a VP recruited him. Our relationship from the start was strained as he was the first one that I had encountered in my career that I had a hard time establishing a good conversation with (work or non work). As time progressed it was very clear to myself and others above and below me that he did not like me. I worked hard at going above his expectations and earning his acceptance as one of his team members. Before the end of the first year with him I was put on a poor performance plan and received a poor review that was crazy critical and even carried an our else statement at the end. My peers on his team knew what was going on and each one gave me support that his observations were not deserved. I was tortured under his leadership for 5 years which devastated my confidence. During the fourth year we got a new VP who was also critical of me at first. I asked for him to work with me and over the course of a few months he changed his feeling on me. The next time we worked together he asked me about my treatment from my boss. I was honest and gave many situations and examples where I was publicly humiliated or mistreated. Our VP confirmed that these actions and situations were not right and he said that he could see our offices environment was off. My next appraisal brought me back to an average+ review with some positive statements from my boss but I knew they were from the VP. I used this as an opportunity to redevelop my relations with my boss. I hosted off work social events which he was included in and took him hunting on my land for the weekend. Through this effort I started to win his trust and approval, maybe even start of a friendship. I continued my efforts on and off field and things continued to improve. Our VP was promoted and his replacement decided after reviewing my past appraisals that he would target me for the poor performance of our district even after I had been given all the sales reports in our district as they let our other sales manager go and gave me all the responsibility. Shortly after he had made a few trips to our district which proved to us he was an alcoholic and a bad one, I was asked to set up a day with one of my reps and a customer dinner. We had a good day on calls and on our way to dinner he started talking about how my upcoming appraisal was going to be bad and maybe I should look at a rep job (demotion). I was in total shock and felt like past times were starting again. I thought to myself, Could this be my boss now that there is a new VP? Dinner went bad as I could not focus on anything and even my customer who I had a close relationship with came to the bathroom when I went to find out if everything was ok. I told him I was ok just under a lot of pressure. We finished dinner and when I was taking the VP to his hotel he said I was really quiet at dinner. I told him that I had hard time thinking about anything more than getting a demotion. He responded that he wanted to see how tough I was! I did not end up getting demoted and a few months later a position with our National Accounts Team opened up. I went through the motions and landed in that new position. My new boss was someone that I had a good relationship with. I excelled at my new role but received average ratings on my appraisals. I was told that with continued success my ratings will become above average. Last summer my boss took a local role in the district where he lived and worked prior to the Directors Role as my boss. His replacement was someone that I was a peer to before and would call our work relationship as positive even friend like as we had both won award trips as District sales managers and spent time together with our spouses on the trip. I worked with him soon after he was promoted to my boss and I found him to be kind of critical on small issues. After this I have become very paranoid that I will get back into the same situation as before even though my stats are great and have not received any negative feedback from him. I was asked about off icing out of the local office as they had recently expanded and I had offeced from my home office for the last 2 years. I talked with the local DM and he explained that he had a shared office that I could use when in town. I talked with my boss and we aggreded that I should work out of that office at least 2x a month on Mondays. I worked out of their a few Mondays over the next six weeks. In June he was confronted by the local VP who told him I was not off icing out of the local office. I talked with my boss and explained how they only had a shared office and it did not seem as though they wanted to give the office up. He responded that it is mandatory that I take a local office and be there on Mondays. I responded that I got the message and will move my things in right away. He then proceeded to tell me that the VP said that he was told I had rode my Harley to work before in jeans and riding gear to that office. This was true that I had rode my Harley down to the office as one of the local sales managers wanted to see it and I was on vacation for that Friday. This had also happened a year ago. At first I was pissed and then it quickly changed to fear. I explained the situation to my boss and even called him back after we had spoke to clear the air. He assured me everything was ok and told me that I have to get a thicker skin, as it was ridicules how sensitive I am. I called the VP for that area and explained the situation which he said that he was glad I called. I talked to my boss the next day as he had spoke with the VP. He said that the VP said that we had a good conversation. We continued to talk about the new office and he once again to me that I need a thicker skin and he can’t have me worrying about stuff other than sales. Since we had spoken I have had surgery on my leg and was able to follow up with everybody but him before I went in as he did not take my call on Tuesday before my Wednesday surgery. I texted him to remind him I was going in for surgery and his response was ” thanks for the update” . I was off on Thursday and on Friday I worked from the phone and computer. I tried to reach him on Friday but he did not take my call. We finally talked today on Monday. This time he called me back. During our conversation I updated him on my situation with my leg and ran through some business situations and some new clients that I added before I had surgery. Although he used friend terms during our conversation like buddy and was friendly it did not seem like he really cared and I was wasting his time. Even when I informed him of a few new clients that I landed when I was off my feet I did not get a good vibe. Although we talked I felt like there was something missing and I am paranoid that something is wrong even though I had asked him if he had anything he needed to go over with me and he said no. I feel like things are starting to go south again and I feel like my sensitive, paranoid and 0 confidence self has created part of this situation. I am one of the top performing executives in the company and I should not be feeling this way. I am stuck and scared to death that things will get bad again even though I have top #s and received a good review with a raise from him in April. I need some good advice
    from a pro. Mabe you can shed some light on my situation and help me?

  2. Brandon Smith says:

    Your not alone in your dilemma. In fact, you’ve inspired my next month’s series of posts on how to get back one’s confidence. To your question. I’m hearing two big themes in your situation. First, I’m reading into this that you are doing a tremendous amount of guessing – guessing on what others expectations are, guessing on where you stand, guessing on what steps to take, etc… Guessing causes high levels of anxiety. So, if you feel anxious most every day, struggle with sleeping, etc… it is one more sign that you are trying to figure out what’s going on without enough data. Here’s your solution: clarify other’s expectations up front. Ask your boss what he expects in terms of your performance. Consider the following great questions:
    – What would you want to see in terms of results from me over the next X months?
    – How would you like to see those results accomplished? Help me to understand if you have any particular preferences on how I get those things done? Attire? Presence in the office? Etc…
    – Can you give me an example of a “rock star” who, in your mind, does / did things the way you prefer?
    – Anything else you would like me to particularly focus or work on?

    These questions will help you to get some clarity on what is expected and then it provides you a way to send updates every quarter on how you are doing. Clarifying these expectations and making them transparent will reduce 50% of your challenges.

    The second component I’m hearing in all of this is the dysfunctional environment you are in. It very well could be the you are simply in a very toxic unhealthy workplace. If that is the case, then just like abusive relationships, you and your confidence will suffer over time until you are so beaten down that you can’t leave. If you believe that the environment is truly unhealthy, I highly recommend leaving. That can give you a fresh start which may be exactly what you need.

    Good luck and keep me posted!


  3. Annon says:

    If you plan to stay, it’s important for you to build your self confidence and not rely on validation from your boss… Trying to interpret or guess what he’s thinking about you or your performance will exhaust you and prevent you from working on You! keep your chin up, nose to the grind. Stop looking backwards and you’ll be fine.

  4. Brandon Smith says:

    It’s an analogy to dating. Just like not being “asked out on a date,” if not careful, you may not be invited to special events or given special opportunities from your boss. Does that help?

  5. RC says:

    This happened to me. I had a good relationship with the COO and I had discussed with her my desire to expand my role within the organization. She wanted me to focus on Quality Improvement. I started projects, several were sucessful, took courses and worked weekends and holidays to prove I could handle more responsibility. At the end of 2012 I felt opptomistic and full of energy and ideas. It seemed I was at the top of my career. But all that changed suddenly and dramatically in 2013. By March 2013 it was apparant something was wrong. Her email responses were more formal, she no longer liked any of my ideas and when she refused to grant me one education day to attend a QI seminar that she mentioned the previous year (I was going to pay my own way – I just wanted the education day) I knew something was seriously wrong. But then she asked me to take on a Quality Improvement project for the Pharmacy Dept (I worked in the lab so this was outside of my scope). I was upbeat again and thought if I did this well it would my proving ground. But her attitude towards me remained negative. She never met with me to discuss her objective. She invited me to one meeting where pharmacy and oncology center members were present. I had a list of at least 25 issues. There was no single focus. I did a general summary of the meeting and identified what I felt were the most serious issues that could be resolved. She obviously did not approve of my approach but instead of talking with me she called another meeting and harshly criticized my approach in front of the group. Still I was determined to do this project. I continued to work on the process for the next 2 months. In summary, she just dropped her interest int he project. I requested meetings but was always given a “check back later” response or I will check my calandar. We never had a single meeting. It became apparant that she just “threw” me at a problem so she could say she did something. The problem continued to deteriorate. I was getting messages through my director that “she was tired of my negative attitude” which I did not understand. I was never aware I had a negative attitude. Other employees in the organization told me that the COO was known to do this and it often was for no apparant reason. I ended up resigning because it was clear that I not only was not going to get Quality Improvement roles but it was apparent she was trying to turn my director against me. There was nothing I could do. My co workers were very supportive and I received a great deal of support from staff that worked in other departments who respected my work. I cant begin to explain the anger and pain I still feel from this and it basically has ended my career. My drive and motivation are diminished. It was clear that it was nothing to do with my work, for whatever reason she wanted me to resign. My director kept insisting that she told him she did not want me to leave but she never expressed that to my in any form. In fact, her only words were “you were dedicated”.

  6. ryan says:

    just laugh…. if you fear a new beginning what fun is that. don’t fight for a job you hate…. let go.. and laugh. confidence is the best revenge with a hint of jovial spirit. start new. I did…. more money smaller company. but I have peace of mind..

  7. Quri says:

    Nothing deserves more than your own peace and self steam. If you do not like a job, do not try to keep it. Design your strategy for your next move and change your job by making the Tarzan’s movement: from one liana to next one – without falling down. And if you have experience enough, this is maybe the right time to stop looking for bosses and getting started your own business.

  8. Belyini Leones says:

    I have a question?
    Why a boss call an employee for a meeting after approving an email?

  9. Brandon Smith says:

    The good news is that is sounds as though the approval happened first. That could be a sign of trust or acceptance. Based on what you offered, which is general, my best assumption is that the meeting was called for either clarification or future alignment. If there was a real issue, the e-mail would never have been approved. So, overall, I wouldn’t be too concerned.

  10. Francis says:

    Please if I am in the office before my boss arrived and met me in the office, who is greet the other first. If he/she passes me and gets into his.her office and I don’t enter to greet will I be wrong.


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