by: Kayleen Shaefer
My boss doesn’t communicate with me. I sit three feet away, and she e-mails me about everything. I admire her drive, but she doesn’t include me in meetings or have confidence in me to do things. The company’s owner asked if he could get us an assistant and have me take on more responsibility. She said no. How should I handle this?
While your boss may be focused and hardworking — on paper, an ideal employee — it doesn’t seem like she’s doing her job. A big part of being a manager, and one that is often overlooked while a company is busy churning out widgets, is to develop relationships with the employees who work for them.
Until you talk to your boss, you can’t know what’s behind the silent treatment. There are a few possibilities: She could be so busy with other tasks that she isn’t finding the time to develop your relationship. Alternatively, she could have a negative perception of you, based on a deadline you missed, a line you flubbed in a presentation or nothing tangible at all. Or it could simply be her personality. She may not have the people skills to be a manager and would be better off working alone.
“Some managers can be so task focused that they trample over people, but they get stuff done,” says John Binning, a psychologist and president of the DeGarmo Group, a human-resources consulting firm in Bloomington, Ill. “Eventually, that will burn out a system.”
Whatever the reason, the first thing you should do is take the initiative and talk to her. You don’t have to drag her into the conference room for five hours to whine about how she ignores you. Just take 10 minutes and put forth an appeal any diligent employee will understand: For the greater good of the company, you want to take on more responsibility.
“Say, ‘I would really like to be here, but I don’t think I’m very effective,’ ” says Jack Hautaluoma, a professor emeritus of organizational psychology at Colorado State University. ” ‘I’m not involved in very much. I could use some more training. I’m interested in doing a better job. If there are things about me I need to know, please tell me.’ ”
This way, you’re not criticizing her for being a glory-hogging boss who withholds substantial work. You’re saying you want to help her achieve what she wants, which is to do good work for the company.
“You see this general approach in relationship counseling,” says Dr. Binning. “People learn to use ‘I’ statements rather than ‘you’ statements. Instead of saying, ‘You don’t vacuum enough,’ they say, ‘I am upset because I feel like I have to vacuum all of the time.’ It’s just a semantic way of not sounding so accusatory.”
If a few weeks go by and she hasn’t trusted you with additional responsibility — filing her expense reports doesn’t count — you can approach the owner of the company. Although that’s a risky strategy, from what you said in your letter it seems as if he wants to promote you. Be warned: When your boss finds out you’ve gone over her head — and she probably will — your relationship may deteriorate to one that makes Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump’s look friendly.
Say to the owner approximately the same thing you said to your boss. You want more opportunities at the company and are having difficulty achieving them. Can he help you? There’s no need to bad-mouth your boss.
If the owner doesn’t do anything to improve the situation, then it’s probably time for you to move on. “If someone is stuck in quicksand,” says Dr. Binning, “my advice is to get out of the quicksand.” Or the cubicle.