My Boss Is Ignoring Me

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about A boss becoming aloof:

In the past, my boss has always treated me with respect and told me what a great job I’m doing. Suddenly a couple of months ago (I’ve been on the job for 2 1/2 years) he has started ignoring me. I have no idea what the issue is but there is a definite change. Within the past two weeks, he has not as much as said hello to me. He has always had an open door policy and I needed 2 minutes of his time last week. I knocked on his door and asked if he had a minute. He replied “not really” with attitude but then asked what I needed. He briefly responded to my question and has not said another word. In the past two weeks I have met with 3 clients on different topics. He always likes an update but has not asked a word. Any advice you can offer is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Signed, Not Asked A Word

Dear Not Asked A Word:

About six weeks ago you sent us this same question and I answered. This time you enlarged your question with a bit more detail, but I can’t see that you’ve taken the advice I sent then. All I can add is that you need to schedule a meeting with him to have his evaluation of your work. Get specific. Learn what he sees you are doing well and what needs improving. Also speak frankly about what you want from him; the kind of support and communication that indicates you are alive and doing what you are hired to do.

Other than that, I have copied the advice I sent earlier: Feeling your boss ignores you is akin to feeling you are not appreciated. What might you do about that? You made a start by asking your boss if everything is okay. When he said, “You’re thinking too much,” did you just turn away and then start thinking more? That would have been a natural reaction. But if his “thinking too much” caused you to bite your tongue, you was a missed opportunity to clear the air. You had opened a conversation about your performance, and your boss apparently didn’t understand you were worried about his seeming coolness or for some reason he didn’t want to talk about that or he misread your question and thought it would put you at ease by simply saying “You are thinking too much.”What ever was his motivation, you have some overlapping choices before you–some that make sense and others that are not smart: 1. Be obsessed about this matter. Play and replay his “You think too much” over and over in your mind. Allow that to escalate to thinking “My boss has it in for me.” Say under your breath, “Yes, boss, I think too much. Just tell me what to do. Say, “Frog and I’ll jump.’ “Obviously, that is a stupid choice. To grovel lessens you in the eyes of the boss. However, no one goes wrong in performing in a way that will make the boss look good.

2. Inquire of your coworkers if they know any reason why the boss seems cool toward you. This too is a poor choice because that fosters a rumor that there is really something that has turned the boss against you. But this choice does suggest, if you have some coworker whom you trust, you can quietly ask if she/he has seen anything that you do that is not a responsible productive employee.

3. Approach the boss again and frankly say you are distressed with his turn off remark that “You think too much.” Admit that you “think” he is ignoring you and you want to know if your work or something else has displeased him. This choice might seem to him like you are overly insecure and in need of coddling; however, it need not be that way if you simply honestly say you have the impression he is either too busy to know you work there or you wonder if your performance is under par.

4. Say no more about this topic at this time, but focus on your performance; seeking to do what adds value to you workplace and to not be irresponsible in any way. How might you do that? By thinking of ways to cut wasted supplies, time, energy, and money. And then after a couple of weeks at the time of formal performance evaluation or in an informal conversation, talk to him about how your want to cut waste and have some ideas of how you might make your coworkers and his job easier. This is an appropriate time to ask, “Do you have any suggestion of what I might do to make our work more productive?” You probably will think of other options. When I first read your question, I wondered if we had ever gotten any question similar to yours. I thought we might have. Therefore, I scanned our Archive in the section that houses questions employees have sent about their bosses. There are many dozens of them. You too should scan them. What you will find is that there are employees with really bad bosses; bosses who yell, belittle, bully, overload, mismanage, etc. Reading these should help you know that bossing is not easy and that the bossed sometimes need to help their bosses learn how not to boss. Also if you scan our section on troublesome coworkers, you should become aware that some subordinates cause bosses to lose their patience. And before you log off, read the Q&As on teams. There you will see the advice that can transform a work group into a team and a boss into a coach and staff meetings into skull sessions; something that you apparently don’t have.

Finally I suggest that you click on our home page the name of my associate Workplace Doctor Tina Lewis Rowe. That will access her site brim full of good advice put in inspirational essays. Reading those should both prompt you to honestly look in the mirror and to possibly see your self as does your boss and to also see your self as the kind of individual any boss would be pleased to have work for him/her. I sign off wanting the best for you; hoping these thoughts will help you to thinking and working through the reason you sent your question: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden