What to do when the boss hates you

Do you suspect that your boss hates you? Do they give you a hard time, micromanage, treat you rudely, and never seem happy with anything you do?

Maybe it’s nothing. Or maybe they’re out to get you and you’re about to lose your job.

Here’s what to do about it.

Don’t take it personally

First off, don’t take your boss’s behaviour personally. (In fact, you should never take anything in life personally). Maybe they’re going through a rough time and it all has nothing to do with you. Remember that everyone is the protagonist in their own story and that your boss, not you, is the protagonist in theirs.

Ask yourself if it’s something you’re doing

That said, maybe it is you. Ask yourself whether your boss has good reason to be upset with you. Do you do your job and bring value to the company? Are you pleasant to be around? Or are you lazy and more of a pain in the butt than an asset? Make a list of the accomplishments you’ve made in your position and outline how they are tied to the success of your department and the company. Not only will this help put things in perspective, but you might also need it later if things spiral downward and you have to defend yourself. If you can’t come up with anything, well, there’s your problem right there.

Be the best you can be at your job

If there is something you’re doing, or not doing, fix it. You can’t fix both sides of a conflict, but you can fix your own side. If you’ve been slacking or behaving badly, stop it. Are you always late? Try, y’know, not being late. Do your job and do it well. Don’t give anyone a chance to say you’re not pulling your weight.

Stand up taller

Don’t shrink. When faced with someone who (we think) doesn’t like us, many of us tend to become sycophantic and nervous – particularly when that person is in a position of power. This often makes things worse, because it makes you look desperate, and desperation makes people dislike you. Summon all the confidence you can, hold your head high, and continue to put your best foot forward.

Be warm and friendly

It sometimes seems hard to believe but most people just want to be liked and feel that they have a place in the world – this includes your boss. Maybe your boss thinks you don’t like them. Say “hello,” and smile when you see them and ask about their life. Offer a genuine compliment when the opportunity presents itself. Think about how you want people to react to you, and reflect that in your own behaviour towards your boss.

Find out if it’s just you

See if you can suss out from your coworkers whether you’re the only one having a problem with your boss. You might have to be crafty about this, and whatever you do, don’t start badmouthing anyone. If it’s not just you, you might have less to be concerned about.

Talk to HR

I’m not a fan of taking things to HR. It feels too much like tattling and I think grown-ups should be able to handle their issues. But if the situation is really bad and you think it could be improved with some outside intervention, go for it. It’s their job to help sort these things out.

Prepare your defense

Should things escalate, and you find yourself in a position where you have to stand up for yourself, either to HR or to a higher up, this is where that list of accomplishments comes in handy. Be ready to talk about your own value, rather than your boss’s shortcomings.

Talk to your boss – and listen to your boss

Rather than going to HR, you always have the option to set up a meeting and say “I sense that there is some dissatisfaction with my work performance. Can we talk about what is happening and how we can improve our relationship?” Maybe you can improve things with a simple conversation in which they listen to you and you listen to them. You are grownups, after all.

Be ready to look for a new job

Beware that the last suggestion comes with risk. I once tried to do this with a boss who disliked me. I invited her for coffee so we could figure out how to improve things. She moved the meeting to the office of the company director and invited two other senior managers. I knew right then that I was going to take the opportunity to quit instead. What was supposed to be a casual conversation turned into me being called to the floor in front of four superiors, which was unacceptable to me. She showed up with her notepad, ready to list her grievances. I sat down across from all of them and quit before she had the chance. I told all the other superiors I was quitting because of my boss and that I didn’t like the way she treated me. I worked out my last two weeks and she literally said not one word to me the entire time.

Sometimes you can’t improve things. You can wait around to be fired or “laid off,” and maybe get some sort of severance. Or you can quit. Up to you. Don’t let me tell you what to do.

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