Boss Does Not Communicate With Me.

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about friendly but distant boss:

I recently started working for a company and was recruited by my current boss to work here. My boss was very friendly to start but has become increasingly distant over the past few months with no obvious reason. She and I both work long hours and we are often alone together in the office but she will never speak to me. If I say hello or goodbye I am lucky to get a head nod and I can count on my fingers the number of times she has initiated conversation with me. Despite this, I have always tried to be courteous; however, I do not feel free to initiate conversation with her unless it is absolutely necessary.

When I try to speak with her about work items she behaves as if I am bothering her. Several times recently I brought up questions about my project with her and she immediately dismissed them. I later heard she had lengthy discussions about them with another coworker who is not associated with my project. Our immediate team is small (7 people) and she is close friends with the other team members outside of work. They often talk at length during work hours about outside activities, and she is constantly joking/laughing with them in front of me.

I get along with the other team members well both at and outside of work. I continue to work hard and work far more hours than the other team members or people with the same position on other teams. Moreover, my work has been more than productive, and my other team members recognize my contributions. I am younger, but an expert in my field; my coworkers regularly use me as a resource and come to me for advice frequently despite my short tenure here.

I have attempted to speak with them about my concerns but they have been dismissive of them and seem to attribute her actions to stress from my boss’s upcoming performance review. Normally, I would attempt to speak with my boss and be upfront about the issue, but I fear that my boss would become angry or resentful. My own performance review is coming up soon and my predecessor was fired rather arbitrarily. I don’t particularly want to ruffle any more feathers as it is difficult to find employment in my field. I can honestly think of no reason for this behavior, but I am finding it increasingly difficult to continue working with her when I know that my work will not be recognized or appreciated and that she has no interest in fostering a positive relationship with me. Best Regards,

Signed, Frustrated

Dear Frustrated:

You are new to this job and have reason to feel frustrated. Boss-bossed communication about work-related matters should be normal and so should a limited non-work conversation. You are unable to understand what might have caused a change from her being “very friendly to start” to “become increasingly distant.” You have observed “she is close friends with the other team members outside of work. They often talk at length during work hours about outside activities, and she is constantly joking/laughing with them in front of me.”

You have raised your concerns about this to coworkers and that they have explained it as pressure your boss might have from her upcoming evaluation. Also I note that you are worried about your own upcoming performance review even though you think your work is good. But you are wary of approaching the subject of your frustration with her.For now, isn’t best that you accept the distance you sense? There might be reasons for her change from friendly to distant. Possibly she thought you were overly dependent or that the friendliness would appear as playing favorites to a new hire or that she would diminish her authority.

Whatever what might have provoked a change, live with it. Continue to greet and say goodbye. Take instructions. Do assignments and only seek input when absolutely necessary.

Steel yourself from taking the distance personally. Don’t gossip about it. You might have done too much complaining to coworkers already. Don’t say more. Since you have determined that for now you don’t want to rock the boat or as you put it “ruffle any more feathers”, I won’t propose that you request a time out meeting to spell out the dos and don’ts of how you might communicate effectively. So where do you go from here, especially because jobs in your field locally are limited and evidently you don’t want to look elsewhere.

In short you have implied an answer to your carefully analyzed situation, at least until you have your performance review. I’m sure you will prepare for your review by listing the projects you have completed but it probably isn’t wise that you note instances in which you have provided helpful information to your teammates. I wouldn’t solicit their support or talk further about your frustration/anxiety.If your review goes well, you can passively accept her evaluation or can candidly or cautiously confront her about how you feel. If it goes poorly, also can passively accept her evaluation or can assertively seek from her what she states is defective and collaboratively you two can spell out what must be improved on your part to stay on the job. These are the only options I see before you.

Possibly my associate workplace doctor, Tina Lewis Rowe, will have additional suggestions. If you have scanned our Archives, you probably have seen how skillfully and empathically she replies to questions such as yours. Focus on the big picture; how you can contribute to the success of your team and in so doing make your boss look good. Focus on serving internal and external customers. Focus on cutting wasted supplies, time, and money. Focus on studying your organization and soak in all you can learn. Think career, not just this job. You can make friends of coworkers who are friendly or outside. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Because you are perceptive, I expect you understand how interdependence is not just rhetoric.

William Gorden