Making Yourself Less Threatening to the Boss

March 4, 2019

Making Yourself Less Threatening to the Boss

In the previous post, I suggested ways to lower your boss’ threat level. In this, you need to recognize work really is different from home. At work, there is a hierarchy of more power and less. You have less. Your boss has more. Therefore, what he wants will often take precedence over your wishes. I’m not saying it’s fair; it just is. This post is about making yourself less threatening to your boss.

What if the ideas don’t work?

Be sure you consistently use the ideas in the previous post before you decide they’re not working. However, sometimes it doesn’t solve the problem.

Why can’t your boss get over herself and quit being a jerk?

Uh-huh—a question for the ages. I can’t know what drives or haunts your particular boss, but a boss can be threatened which have nothing to do with you.  She might be:

  • Worried she’s reached her level of incompetence
  • Afraid she will be replaced by some young whippersnapper
  • Carrying around the burden of past failures

Try to imagine how you would feel if these were your concerns. It’s probably a scary and kind of helpless place. You might even feel sorry for her. However, even if you do (or even if you don’t), her insecurities may impede your career progress.

What can you do to be less threatening?

Ask for technical help

Ask your boss for help on something he assigned you. This is not the time to show how clever you are. Instead, pose an interesting dilemma in the work (not how do I get this printed?) and ask him how to proceed. This will demonstrate that you value his expertise.

Ask for career advice

Ask him how he got to where he is, what roadblocks he faced and how he overcame them, who he admired in the workplace, what he learned from this person, what experiences were most valuable to him, etc. etc. Here you demonstrate you respect him enough to want his advice.

Deny all/do not demonstrate your ambition

The previous item can make you look ambitious but as I have discussed in my book The 9.17% Solution: Inside the Dark Side of Work, it’s a strong undercurrent in organizations to avoid seeming so. You can be ambitious; you just can’t look it.

So your career talks should be couched as information gathering for a day far in the future. Example: I really enjoy the work. I can see doing this for a long time. How did you decide that it was time to try for a more senior position?”

Find another job

This is not a foolproof recipe. Sometimes your boss won’t react positively to the reaching out. If you have tried everything you can and you believe that your boss is really impeding your advancement, it might be time to look for another job. Some things can’t be fixed.

A reason for not doing any of this

Do any of these suggestions feel manipulative or even under-handed? Well, they might be but they may just be dealing as best you can with the undercurrents in your company.

It’s important to listen to your gut. If it’s telling you that this is not you, pay attention. It isn’t easy sometimes to be yourself at work. If this a time when being who you are is more important than getting in good with the boss, act accordingly.

But I’d be looking around for a new job, too.

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