Improve your supervisor relationship and reduce stress

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Improve your supervisor relationship and reduce stress

Learn to reduce workplace stress by maintaining a good relationship with your supervisor.

Do you work for a manager who meets all your expectations? Do you get along well and respect one another's abilities? If you answered yes to both of these questions, consider yourself lucky. If not, don't worry. It's normal to have differences of opinion and style with your manager. You can learn to accept these differences and work with them to limit your workplace stress.

Are your work styles compatible?

Managers have differing styles when it comes to supervising work. Some use a "hands-off" approach and prefer to coach or mentor rather than manage the details closely (micromanage).

The hands-off approach gives you freedom to do your work with minimal supervision. If you're comfortable with such expectations and have the skills to work independently, this approach works well. But the hands-off approach doesn't work for everyone or for every job. You may need more of your boss's input and close supervision to do your best. Whenever there is a mismatch between the amount of supervision you want and the amount you get, you'll feel stressed.

A solution may be found by talking to your supervisor to determine if he or she is open to adjusting the level of supervision you receive. Also, if your company offers a continuing education course in communicating across personality or management styles, consider signing up for it. You'll learn about yourself and how to work successfully with people who have different styles.

How to get along with your supervisor

No matter where you are on the corporate ladder, it's to your advantage to get along well with your supervisor. Many supervisors are easy to work with, but some aren't. Your relationship with your supervisor is probably the most important one you have at work. Why? Having a healthy relationship with your supervisor usually means you're more satisfied with the work you do and have less stress.

Your boss can be a key supporter in helping you achieve your long-term goals. He or she knows your company's goals and knows what the company looks for in future managers and leaders.

You usually can't change your boss's behavior, but you can nurture the quality of the relationship. Here are some tips to keep the relationship healthy.

  • Show respect. Even if your boss hasn't yet won your loyalty, he or she is still entitled to your respect. Your boss is responsible for your work and the work of your colleagues. That can be a significant burden. Try to understand the business from your boss's perspective. Try to treat him or her with the respect the position and the responsibility warrant.
  • Don't be afraid of your boss. Some supervisors can be intimidating, but remember, your boss needs you. Your performance is often key to the success of your boss.
  • Do your best. Try to live up to the performance expectations set for your job. In doing your best, you'll gain greater satisfaction from your work, earn your supervisor's trust and help the organization achieve its goals.
  • Give honest feedback. Your supervisor needs you to tell the truth, even if it's unpleasant — and you may have valuable information or questions for your supervisor. Of course, temper your honesty with diplomacy. Choose your words wisely and use a gentle tone. Both should promote and contribute to an environment of mutual respect.
  • Don't try to hide problems. First, try to solve the problem. If you can't and the problem becomes serious, let your supervisor know as soon as possible. Offer solutions and ask for additional recommendations. Don't let your boss find out about the problem from someone else.
  • Break important news fast. If you get pregnant, become seriously ill, need to have surgery or need time off for a family crisis, inform your boss as soon as possible. This gives him or her time to cover your absence.
  • Maintain your boundaries. Remember to keep your business relationships about business. However close you may be with your supervisor, he or she is still the boss, and at times that means making unpopular or difficult decisions.
  • Be positive. When things go wrong, a positive attitude means a lot to people who work with you, including your boss. Communicate with questions or suggestions, rather than complaints. Volunteer suggestions to mitigate the problem, and don't be offended if they're not always implemented.
  • Manage your anger. Blowing up in front of your manager solves nothing, but demonstrates clearly that you can't control your emotions. This doesn't mean you have to sit and stew when you're angry. But learn how to communicate your anger appropriately. If anger management is difficult for you, sign up for a course to help you deal with it.
  • Embrace your strengths. If your boss tells you that you're good at something or have done an excellent job on a project, thank him or her and take it to heart. Recognize your own talents and nurture them.
  • Face your shortcomings. You can't be skilled in everything you do. Ask your supervisor for advice to help you grow in areas where you're weak. Take his or her advice and make an honest effort to improve.

Do you work with a micromanager?

A micromanager uses a "hands-on" approach to supervising your work. But he or she takes it to the extreme. If you've ever worked with a supervisor who peers over your shoulder while you work or insists you do your work only his or her way, you've experienced micromanagement and probably know how stressful it can be.

At heart, micromanagement is about trust — your supervisor's trust in your ability to get the job done. Here are tips for dealing with a micromanager:

  • Make a plan. The first step to confronting micromanagement is to establish trust. Develop a project plan after you receive your next assignment. Make sure you include dates and times you'll report back on your progress.
  • Get feedback. Get your boss's feedback on your plan early and reach an agreement on how the project will proceed. Be flexible if your boss makes changes.
  • Execute your plan. Follow through on the plan you both agreed on. Meet the deadlines and report back as planned. If your supervisor questions how you did something, you can say, "This is what we agreed on." If you try to reach an understanding with your boss using this technique and it doesn't improve your situation, gently confront him or her by saying, "This isn't working for me." Share your feelings and ask if the two of you can get together to improve the situation. Come prepared with the facts and possible solutions to improving your working relationship, and make your point without being emotional. Again, seek agreement for how you'll work together going forward.

When gaining control is beyond your control

Sometimes there just isn't much that can be done to change your work situation. If that's the case, try focusing on what you may be able to control:

  • Focus on the redeeming features of your job. Perhaps the work is exciting or the pay is good, or you like your co-workers.
  • Develop good work habits. Arrive on time. Stay positive, even when others are complaining. Be a team player. Know what your supervisor expects of you and meet or exceed those expectations whenever possible.
  • Focus on your personal life. Put work in its proper perspective. Ask yourself which is more important — your work life or your personal life. Develop interests and passions outside of work that give you a sense of control and balance — for example, leading a Girl Scout or Boy Scout troop, heading up your local neighborhood association or serving on a committee at your church, synagogue or mosque.

Is it time for a change?

If you've tried some or all of these suggestions and believe that nothing you can do will improve the situation, it may be time to consider seeking employment elsewhere. A mismatch in work demands, personalities, management style and corporate culture are all valid reasons to consider making a change.

Last Updated: 09/15/2006
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