How to Establish a Good Relationship With Your Boss

By Anne Krook

Where You're Going

Congratulations – you got a job! That’s a huge accomplishment for a recent grad in this economy. Now, though, it’s time to learn how to succeed in that job.The biggest difference between school or training and a job is having a full-time boss. Getting off to a good start with your boss will help you enormously at work and kickstart your career. But a boss is not a friend, and not a professor or instructor, either. A boss is the colleague with responsibility for you and your work. Here’s a guide to a establishing a professional working relationship with your boss.

Defining Your Job

When you start your job, you almost certainly don’t know exactly what your responsibilities are at your new workplace. Interestingly, your boss may not know either, especially if he was not your hiring manager, or if you were allocated to her when she got new responsibilities through taking on new teams, or if you’re assigned to a brand-new project. Or her idea of your role may differ from yours, which is no way to start a new job. So the first thing to do is to sit down with your boss and get a preliminary understanding of what is expected of you in your new job. Most companies schedule a meeting with your boss right after new-employee orientation, if your company has that.

Start off by listening more than you talk (good general advice for the workplace, by the way). Once your boss has described your role, here are some good questions to ask your boss:

  • “What is most important to you about this job / this project?”
  • “What does success in this [project] mean to this group? To the company?”

Notice that your questions should not, in this case, be all about you, but about the work to which you will contribute.

Until you have been at the company a while, don’t ask “what do I have to do to get my first promotion?”

Communicating Effectively

Your boss wants you to get your work done, and wants to hear as often as necessary to be assured that you are doing that. How often that is varies enormously from boss to boss. The best way to find out how often does your boss want to see you in person and be informed about the status of your work is to ask. Sometimes you will be told, but if not, it is fine to ask how often she would like to schedule one-on-one meetings with you, and how often he wants a status report in writing.

The single best thing you can do both to enable yourself to keep your boss informed and to advance your own career is to keep a work diary. At the end of every day, take five minutes to write down what you did that day, what new information or skill you learned, if any, and whom you thanked. This isn’t a detailed recap – it should really take you no more than five minutes. On Friday, take an additional five minutes to review the week’s entries.

You’ll get two main benefits out of this exercise: when you need a status report for your boss, you’ll have a lot of the material to write it right at hand. And when it comes time to write your own performance review, you’ll have a record of what you did – typically new jobs are so busy and teach you so much that you will forget a lot of what you do and learn.

Your Boss Has a Boss, Too

Your boss has a boss, too, and one thing everyone hates is to be surprised in front of his boss. So before you broadcast bad news about a project or any other work issue to anyone other than your boss, make sure she knows first. Particularly, make sure to check with your boss before firing off criticism of anyone in email (remember, email is very easy to forward and impossible to control once you hit “send”). Over time you will understand what information your boss wants to see before anyone else, but start off by assuming that tough news should go to your boss first.

Outside of Work

Some work teams socialize a lot together, and often your boss socializes along with the team. Some simple rules can help those encounters go smoothly. The first rule is not to say anything to your boss at a social encounter that you wouldn’t say at work. Also, don’t drink to excess in when your boss is present (“excess” means whatever would lead you to violate the first rule). Don’t accept invitations to socialize with your boss alone after hours without understanding your workplace’s policies. A late-afternoon one-on-one over coffee is fine; dinner and drinks may be fine, too, but check first. And check on policies for charging such expenses to your company – you don’t want to assume the company is paying for dinner and then get half the bill.

Once You've Been There a While

Once you’ve been at your workplace three or four months, ask if you can sit down with your boss one-on-one to discuss how you’re doing, separately from your usual work-related one-on-ones. Some workplaces have such a discussion built in, but most don’t. Ask how you are doing; ask how you can improve; ask whom you should be learning from; ask what you should be reading. The first two questions can be scary to ask, but your boss will respect you for asking and will remember that you did.

Good luck!


Author

Anne Krook is the author of Now What Do I Say?": Practical Workplace Advice for Younger Women, available from Amazon and as an iBook. Find her at annekrook.com.

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