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How to Handle a New Boss

There are two times in your professional life when you’ll experience the anxiety and hope that comes with having a new boss: when you begin a new job and when your boss is the newbie. Both situations are fraught with potential landmines, but both are also opportunities to create a wonderful working relationship with your manager. These tips will help you make the most of having a new boss.

When You’re New

Get his ear early and often. The best way to impress a new boss and forge a smooth working relationship is to establish clear expectations. As soon as you’ve gotten a few days of orientation under your belt, request a meeting with your boss to discuss her priorities for you and how your success will be measured. That lets her know that doing well is important to you, and it gives you clear, measurable guidelines for your performance. Make a point of meeting regularly to talk through new priorities and any potential problems.

Communicate your feelings professionally. It’s typical for new employees to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things they need to learn in a new job. And when most people feel overwhelmed, they become quiet, edgy, or even visibly irritated. Stay in tune with how you’re feeling and how you may be coming across to others. If you feel yourself shutting down or getting testy, it’s okay to say something like, “I really appreciate everything I’m learning, and if I seem quiet, it’s just because I’m processing it.” Your boss will understand.

Ride out the bumps—for a while. You’re going into your new job with high hopes, right? After all, you wouldn’t have signed on if you thought it would be dreadful. So it can be a shock if you discover that you don’t especially like your new boss. The best thing to do is give it time. Relationships can change, and the first few months are rarely a blueprint for how you’ll eventually interact with your boss. However, if your boss is doing anything illegal—or asking you to do anything illegal—run.

Check your ego at the door. It’s tempting to start making suggestions about how to improve things in your new office as soon as you arrive. And you might assume that your boss would welcome an “outside” opinion on things. Wrong. It’s important to get the lay of the land and understand how and why things work before you jump in and try to fix things that your boss may not want fixed. You’ll have plenty of opportunities later to voice an opinion.

When Your Boss is New

Rein in your expectations. Whether you had the most successful relationship in the history of the world with your previous boss—or it was so bad it made you physically ill—you’re likely thinking one of two things about the person sent to fill those shoes: it will be just the same (perfect or horrendous) or it will be completely opposite (perfect or horrendous). The truth is that few supervisor-employee relationships are that black and white; most are cordial, occasionally irritating, and occasionally joyful. So if you’re used to something on one end of the heaven-hell spectrum, make sure your expectations hover somewhere around “respectful.”

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Take gossip with a grain of salt. Sometimes a boss’ reputation precedes her, and what’s being said isn’t pleasant. If you can’t find anyone with a kind word to say about her, you may be in for a bumpy road. But if some people think she’s great and others think she’s an ogre, there’s no need to panic. Realize that some personalities just don’t mesh and some employees aren’t the fantastic workers they think they are (and, hence, can get on the wrong side of a boss). The differing viewpoints are likely the result of inter-personal conflicts rather than proof that your new boss is awful.

Do listen to talk about his work habits.
Asking peers about your new boss’ personality and quirks is fine, but asking about his work habits and what he considers important will go a long way toward preparing you to make a good first impression. If you learn that he’s a stickler for punctuality, for example, you can make absolutely certain you’re always on time or early for meetings.

Don’t show him the ropes unless asked.
It may be tempting to try to show your new boss how things are done—either as a sincere gesture of kindness or as a power play—but it’s not a good idea unless you’re specifically asked to do so. Why? Your boss may already feel one step behind everyone else in the department, and, coupled with a supervisor’s desire to lead, it could rub him the wrong way. Offer to help in any way you can, but don’t overstep your boundaries.

Give her a break. You know your job, so you’re probably motoring along like usual. But your new boss is walking into a completely different situation, and whether she shows it or not, she’s nervous. If she seems distant or hard to get to know, cut her some slack for the first few weeks. She’s likely knee-deep in a learning curve, and this may not be an accurate reflection of her personality or management style. Reserve judgment until she’s established in her new role.

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