Build a Positive Relationship, No Matter Who You Report To

November 13, 2016
Dr. Paul White

In the past, an employee’s relationship with their direct supervisor was found to be one of the most influential factors on whether or not the employee enjoyed their job. However, this dynamic has changed somewhat. Jared Lindzon, in this article about change and work, spoke to analyst Josh Bersin who says, "Most companies, even big companies, are much less hierarchal and much less top-down in their execution than they used to be. Leaders are finding that they have to be more inspirational, they have to be more collaborative.”

In recent years, relationships with colleagues have become increasingly influential in the perception of job satisfaction. Part of this has to do with the younger generational workers highly valuing collegial relationships (as demonstrated by their desire to work together on tasks more than Gen X or Boomers do). Another aspect is that, in many settings, there is a greater amount of cross-departmental collaboration that creates more than one reporting relationship. For example, a team member in customer service may work with marketing to give input on how to market to existing clients, and the marketing supervisor oversees the project.

Another factor that may reduce the importance of the relationship with one’s direct supervisor/boss is the myriad of ways an employee is assessed in today’s workplaces, including 360 degree feedback and other objective measures of work. Bersin also referred to this in the interview: “The traditional approach to performance management and performance appraisals is being revolutionized, they're throwing away ratings, they're putting in systems to provide feedback, and the gap that's being created is, 'Who are the right leaders?'"

A few thoughts about how to build a positive reporting relationship, even in shifting times:

  1. Be appreciative. Bosses and supervisors don’t hear much thanks and hear a lot of complaining (or problems to solve).  Occasionally thanking someone (being specific about “for what”) can go a long way to start to build a positive relationship.
  2. Be respectful. One of the most common complaints I hear from supervisors (especially in cross-generational relationships) is that they feel disrespected. Most of us aren’t sure what makes us feel respected but we clearly know when we feel disrespected. Having a general conversation with your boss about actions that lead them to feel respected (or disrespected) would be wise.
  3. If you are going to raise a concern, make sure it is specific (versus being vague and general), and that it is a behavior/issue your boss can address. Don’t whine about “management” or a colleague in another department, where your supervisor has no influence.
  4. Do your job well (and be willing to do “above and beyond”). Remember, you are there to accomplish tasks and do them well. When you perform quality work and, at least occasionally, do more than is required, you make your boss look good to his/her colleagues and supervisor.

The goal of building a positive relationship with your boss isn’t to try to “suck up” to them and win undue favoritism. The purpose is to develop a healthy, positive relationship of mutual respect – which will lead to better communication, the ability to work through disagreements, and a partnership where you can support one another through difficult times.

More From Dr. Paul White

Do You Have a Colleague Who Seems to be Easily Offended?

Do You Have a “Difficult to Appreciate” Co-Worker?

5 Ways to Tell if a Workplace is Toxic

Paul White, Ph.D, is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. For more information about related assessments and training resources, go to .

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