How to handle a "difficult" boss

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I've been very lucky in the boss department. Across a variety of jobs and fields, I've had stellar bosses. But I know that isn't everyone's experience. So let's talk about it. Do you have a problematic relationship with your direct manager? Or your skip level? Here's the good news: coaching can help you with that, too.

As with all things, your experience of your boss comes down to one thing: your thoughts about your boss. How could this possibly be true when your boss is a whole separate person from you with her own thoughts and actions? It's actually really simple. You have a bunch of thoughts and ideas about your boss in particular and probably also ideas about what bosses should be like. And then your brain filters every interaction and experience with your boss through the lens of those thoughts and beliefs.

Let's look at an example: Let's say that you think your boss is a little annoying sometimes. If that's your thought, and then your boss, Susan, walks into the team meeting and says "Good morning! I have an exciting announcement to make," your brain is immediately scanning for her being annoying (amazingly, if we think someone is annoying, our brains can find evidence of it everywhere. They say "good morning" or "exciting announcement" and we're like, ugh, so annoying). The reason the brain does this is because of confirmation bias. Basically, the way the brain processes information means that it privileges information that supports its current beliefs but it rejects information that disproves them. So, if Susan complimented you on the work you did on a recent project, and her compliment didn't fit into your beliefs about her, then you would either discard that data as unimportant or you would assess it through the lens of your beliefs. For instance, you might not believe her compliment and you might think that she was trying to win you over with false praise. But it's your thoughts about Susan and not Susan herself that creates your experience of her. 

Let's consider another example. Let's say that your skip level (your boss' boss) has to approve your promotion, but you think she doesn't like you. What's happening here is that you have the thought that she doesn't like you and then your brain goes and finds evidence for that thought (confirmation bias at work, again). In your experience of this situation, it seems like the problem is that she doesn't like you, but in reality, it's not. For one, we have no way of telling if she likes you. Only she knows if she actually likes you or not. And for two, it's your own thought that she doesn't like you that's creating your experience of being disliked. Now, this is an advanced topic, so if your brain hurts a little right now, that's totally normal. But stay with me. If you believe someone doesn't like you, then that's what you experience. But that doesn't mean it's objective reality. Your boss' boss could like you very much and still behave in a way that doesn't align with your idea of how people act when they like you.

The truth is there's a lot we actually don't know. But when we're convinced we do know, then that's all we see. This isn't necessarily a problem, but if you have a difficult relationship with someone, and you'd rather it wasn't difficult, then this is the best news in the world. 

Why? Because you can change the relationship. Without the other person having to change at all. It seems like magic, but it's not. It's simply being willing to shift your perspective. When you think your boss is annoying, you see annoying. When you think your skip level doesn't like you, you see evidence of that. But when you're willing to see people differently, when you're willing to be wrong, to be surprised, then you'll see all kinds of new stuff. And it will blow your mind. 

Right now, you might think that "annoying" and "she doesn't like me" are facts. But they're not. They're your opinions. When you're willing to see things differently, your brain will still offer you "annoying" and "doesn't like me," but it will also offer you new ideas, too. If you can also begin to see that your idea of what a boss or skip level should be like is just a set of opinions and also not facts, then you will also be able to appreciate your boss and your skip level for the people they actually are. Most of us have a lot of ideas in our heads about how people should be, but the thing is, we didn't usually choose those opinions on purpose. Most of them are just ideas we uploaded from culture, or something we read in an article once. When you can begin to see and question the metrics you've been using to evaluate people, you might decide they're not as important as you think. 

And here's the best part: learning to see people anew and learning to appreciate them for whoever they are feels awesome. Not for them, but for you. It feels great to enjoy your boss, just the way she is, exciting announcements and all. And it feels awesome to appreciate your cool-headed skip level for who she is, even though she never shows emotion in the office. And when you're willing to change your mind, and see people anew, it will seem like they also changed, even though they didn't. Because when your thoughts change, then your confirmation bias shows you new information. It's not fake news. It's just curated by a different perspective. And it's going to totally delight you.