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How close should I be with my boss?

It’s the million-dollar question that every employee has pondered upon at least once during their career.

I remember wishing I had an article like this to read right after my first ever performance appraisal in my first place of employment in Sydney.

Right after my boss had given me my feedback, I had felt a gush of empathy and gratefulness about the role she played in the half hour, and before I could stop myself, I found my arms placed tightly around her in what one might call ‘a hug’.

Awkward much? You bet.

The next minute brought a highly stiff moment for my boss and myself, and in that moment I realised I had crossed some kind of a boundary.

Of course, it’s funny now when I ponder back, but at that point in time I was seriously worried about its effect on my performance ratings.

Most of us would love to be friends with our colleagues. When we spend an average of 10 hours or more every day in the workplace, we seek a harmonious environment where we can work alongside our friends.

But what about your boss? Is it even possible to be real friends?

The safety net that the word ‘friendship’ brings is that you don’t have to weigh your thoughts or measure your words. It brings to mind equality.

When two people are on the same page and you are more or less equal – you are friends. But with the word ‘boss’ however, you associate your thoughts with power and authority.


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So, with such an imbalance in mind, the question is: Can you be true friends with your boss?

According to a 2013 survey conducted by Gallup, as high as 80 percent of employees worldwide don’t seem to think so, and their dissatisfaction with their managers leads them to being disengaged with their company as a whole.

Remember the movie Horrible Bosses? The star-studded comedy took over US$200 million at the box-office based on a storyline of three friends who fantasised about killing their bosses.

Some say that the reason the movie was so successful was because it was based on a relatable premise (I am very sure many of you have had that fantasy).

In reality though, there are many less extreme ways of handling your relationship with your boss, and with definitely better outcomes. Most HR practitioners, in general, tend to live by the mantra – be friendly, but don’t be friends.

According to David Nita Clarke’s MacLeod Review, to have or to be an engaging manager is the key to enhancing performance.

An engaging manager develops and increases the capabilities of their employees simply by treating them with respect and appreciation.

In turn, the employees who feel that their views are listened to and sought after inadvertently make positive contributions to the company.

This line of thinking is great advice for the bosses, but where does that leave the employee? It leaves us employees with the notion that, we can be friendly with our bosses, without having the need to mistake that being friendly has to mean becoming BFFs.


Friendliness begets friendliness

According to  a study by Christine Riordan, Ph. D in the Journal of Business Psychology, having close friendships at work not only makes for a better working environment, but it also has business advantages that include increased productivity and employee retention. 

Ever heard of the maxim “do unto others, what you want others to do unto you’? Sometimes we forget that bosses are not robots but normal human beings capable of emotions too.

Little things like smiling and asking your boss how was their weekend can make your boss feel appreciated that you are taking an interest in their personal well-being.

Find common ground such as sports to keep your conversations light, and always be genuine.


Engage your boss proactively

Observe your boss and understand at a closer level how he or she is making decisions.

Noticing predictable patterns in the workplace and taking action early allows you to anticipate your boss’s needs instead of waiting to be told what to do. After all, making your boss’s life easier will ultimately make yours easier in the long run, right?

The trust you build from doing so will measure volumes as well, and who doesn’t want to be seen as efficient and effective?


Manage your boss

Start thinking of your boss as a resource, your resource that helps you get your job done, and get it done well.

Imagine your boss signing off on your proposals in a timely manner, arranging for all the resources you require, and based on merit, obtaining the budget required to give you your well-deserved raise.


Focus on the solution, not the problem

Don’t just be a service provider, but become a solution provider.

With all the different things on their plate, the last thing bosses want is to hear a slew of complaints, without any initiative in providing solutions.

Analyse the issues at hand, and think of ways that the issues can be overcome. Try the WWMBD approach – What Would My Boss Do? After a while, your boss might even think you’ve become a mind reader.


O is for Organised

Organising your physical environment is one thing, but organising your mind is another.

Train your mind to become an encyclopedia of sorts; where you always have data on-hand. You’ll eventually earn a reputation of being credible while becoming your boss’ “go-to” –person your boss goes to for reliable, immediate and up-to-date information. Very much like a consultant.

If we take the time to develop a strong, two-way and most importantly a friendly relationship with our boss, we become an asset to the team. An asset with a higher chance of landing those high-profile projects, a raise, or even a promotion.

But the job satisfaction that comes along with it? Priceless.


I leave you now with these wise words of Theodore Roosevelt: The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.


Hetal Doshi – Suhana Daswani is a professionally qualified organisational psychologist, certified professional coach, and the founder of O Psych Sdn Bhd, with an expertise in work performance, team dynamics and emotional intelligence. To get in touch with her, drop an email to editor@mystarjob.com.


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Related articles:

Seven awkward questions never to ask your boss

Are you ready to be a manager?


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