Don’t be a [boss] hater

As is starting your career wasn’t hard enough with a new schedule (no more summers), delayed gratification (promotions aren’t guaranteed), skill acquisition (a key tenet of Entry Level Escape, there’s also a bunch of new unspoken and unwritten behavioral norms that lie in wait to trip you up. These trip wires will sneak up on you for a few reasons:

  1. Generally, you will not receive explicit warnings to avoid them
  2. They feel right, especially in the face of agreement from peers
  3. They aren’t obviously catastrophic – you won’t see the damage until it’s too late

As your Entry Level Escape coach, I’d like to dedicate a few posts to disarming trip wires so your One Year Plan doesn’t turn into a Five Year Plan.

If you like where this is going and want to learn to grow as a professional and set yourself up with your best chance at promotion in about 12 months, check out Entry Level Escape:

What is a boss hater?

It’s unlikely you legitimately hate your boss and it is also unlikely that your boss is a genuinely bad person. More likely, you are merely annoyed by your boss doing normal boss things like assigning work, directing how to do the work, providing developmental feedback, and other common elements of the manager – managed relationship. Annoyance is a perfectly normal reaction, after all most people would feel at least a tiny bit of discomfort in any of those exchanges. The term “boss hater” is reserved for those who express that discomfort in ways that could be perceived a disrespectful or rude. If you sigh loudly when given work, roll your eyes or debate when given feedback, disregard instructions and “do it my way” when given guidance on how to do something, then you may be a boss hater. These are just examples, there are so many verbal and non-verbal ways to create the “boss hater vibe”.

How good is your poker face? Chances are it’s not, so you need to be extra vigilant that you’re not slipping into a “boss hater” behavior pattern, especially non-verbally. Yes, it’s normal but normal isn’t necessarily correct.

Another way this may come up is “venting” to coworkers or peers. I’ll go further into this in the “bad politician” trip wire post. For now, you not only need to avoid making disparaging or critical comments at work to let off steam, but you also need to be careful about being told them. Failure to object to a disparaging comment can be interpreted as agreeing with it. This is the sneakiest form of the trip wire because someone can represent you as a “boss hater” even if you’re not one!

What’s the cost?

When it come to career advancement, your manager is the single most important relationship you have. They establish your success criteria, guide your growth, and progress within your organization, and give you access to Impact opportunities. This is especially true in entry level roles where you won’t have “customer” relationships that you own and can have advocate for you. When you act in ways that signal “I don’t like you” or “I don’t want to work with you” you end up damaging that relationship. To frame this in a completely selfish way, how is your manager going to find the motivation to advocate for you at promotion time? Furthermore, since your promotion journey is a full year of closing gaps with Skills and amassing Impact through work you need your manager to on your team to help you pick the right Skills, ensure you’ve reached conscious competence, and give you opportunities to have Impact. Why would you ever do anything to undermine that relationship? Finally, when you exhibit “boss hater” behaviors you come across as immature which can further delay promotion. Imagine having a reputation where someone says “well, they’re more than competent enough for next level but we’re not seeing the professional maturity necessary for the role”. I’d kick myself pretty hard if my attitude cost me something my work product earned, and I doubt I’m alone.

Bringing us to cost, specifically, you’re looking at a best-case scenario of a [completely avoidable] 6 – 12 month delay in your promotion timeline to a worst-case scenario of causing your manager to write you off and stop all investment in your growth (effectively killing your promotion prospects).

If entry level work is a prison that you need to escape then your manager is the warden, don’t pick a fight with the warden.

Putting this into action

Remember that poker face I mentioned earlier? Your first task is to learn how to use it. How to get started? Listen to your body. There is likely a physical sensation right before you involuntarily (or voluntarily) enter your boss hate behavior pattern. For me, it always starts in my stomach. When I feel that I put on my poker face, I even physically alter my posture, so my hand is on my mouth. That little adjustment adds just enough friction to stop me from saying something foolish or career limiting. That may seem extreme, but I learned the hard way. You need to figure out what you can do to override the instinctive and involuntary responses. If you can buy yourself those precious 3 to 5 seconds then your rational but slower brain can catch up to your faster but career limiting emotions. Once you break the loop then you just have to exhibit the right patterns, which can be informed by examining the root cause of your angst. Here are some examples:

  • For new work, if the root cause is that you feel overloaded, instead of complaining about new work try asking how to prioritize the new work relative to current work. Ask if there’s timeline flexibility or the possibility to cancel, redirect, etc., work on your plate (whether old or new).
    • This is much more mature because it shows you processing capacity and dependencies rather than whining about doing your job
  • For being told how to do something, if the root cause is you genuinely believe you know of a better way, try something like this “would you be opposed to me tinkering with [something specific]? I have a few ideas that might lead to a better output”. For example, you may want to experiment with a new layout, new color scheme, new process (or steps within a process).
    • What you’re doing is mature for a variety of reasons. First, you’re empowering your manager to make the call rather than just going rogue. Second, you’re boxing in your experiment, this reduces risk and uncertainty. Third, you’re demonstrating critical thinking and a desire to improve things, not to change for change’s sake.
  • For developmental feedback, if the root cause is ego, try something like “you’re much more experienced than I am, how have you dealt with this in the past?”.
    • This is more mature since it shows a desire to improve while replenishing rapport because you’re expressing trust and valuing their perspective. Additionally, your manager will likely give you the answer or recipe for success and help you cut out guesswork and iteration. Even if you still disagree on some level while you report to them, they define correct.
  • When someone is “venting” to you and making disparaging comments about your manager, my go to line is this “I haven’t personally seen or experienced anything that aligns with what you’re saying. While I can’t disagree or disprove what you’re saying, I can’t agree with it either.” It’s a bit of a mouthful but allows you to clearly separate yourself from the complainer without invalidating their feelings. Even if you agree with them, maintain the barrier in a polite way.
    • This is applicable to any gossip (not just when the subject is your boss); you never know who else is listening. While there’s a definite difference between critical analysis and disparagement, for now, I’d advise you to abstain and use the above script.

These will take time to become your default behavioral pattern. To be candid, I still have to check myself and I’m quite a bit removed from entry level. Good luck navigating this important relationship. Hopefully you can confidently step over this trip wire without triggering it.

If you found this post helpful and want more ways to grow as a professional and set yourself up with your best chance at promotion in about 12 months, check out Entry Level Escape:


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