It’s almost Valentine’s Day, so what better time to think of that someone special in your life. I’m not talking about your hook-ups, blind dates, flings or part-time lovers — this person is The One With Whom You’re Spending Your Future. The One To Whom You’ve Hitched Your Star. The One You See Every Morning. The One Who Can Call You At Anytime. The One Who Sends Your Insides Fluttering. The One Who Can Keep You Up All Night Long. The One Who Can Fire Your A$$. Yes, dear friends, most of us have that same special someone in our lives: our boss, our employer, our own devil wearing Prada.
The relationship you have with your boss is one that can stand the test of time, providing you each can stand each other. It can last days, months, even years. And it’s possible that this relationship will outlast each of your outside personal relations. Breakups may happen, furniture and friends may be divided, but work will always be there waiting for you.
No matter how you begin your courtship — interviewing as a demure, blushing graduate or as a mature sophisticate who’s been around a job or two — you will probably spendmore time each day with the person who hired you than your spouse or significant other. Given the intensity of this bond, it’s a wonder you don’t hear more sentimental, chest-thumping, fist-pumping boss / employee ballads on the radio.
It’s not to say you’re in love with your boss. But working with this person can give you some of the same feelings of the most torrid affairs. Google "boss/employee relations," and you’ll find advice that reads just short of Dr. Ruth: there are articles about trust, support, communication, and partnership building. I even find mentions of “different styles,” “faking it,” and “vulnerabilities.” Certainly, these topics relate to management techniques, sincerity, and trustworthiness. But really, even if they’re not talking about moonlight and magic, the similarities are there. (Let’s save tales of actual romantic dalliances with superiors for another time).
I’ve been employed at my current job for a number of years (the seven-year-itch having come and gone at least twice). I’ve generally had good relations with my boss, having been loyal, and as any romantic will tell you, willing to overlook his unfavorable personal traits in favor of the overall good of the job. My boss is wildly intelligent, and amazingly creative. And I’ve worked to become someone he will see as an asset to our firm, accepting his criticisms and occasional nuggets of praise, while advancing my career and broadening my responsibilities.
However, I must add that sometimes I can’t stand the mere thought of him. He can be arrogant, conceited, dismissive, condescending, and, though he fancies himself the cool intellectual, prone to emotional outbursts that would shame a three-year-old. In this case, the devil wears slightly rumpled suits with unintentionally retro ties. Though I don’t pretend to understand his management style — serious conversation, followed by a socially awkward personal aside, ending with backhanded praise — I’ve learned to respect him. And I’ve developed my own ways of dealing with him.
Love affairs have their own personalities, expectations and limitations. The relationship you have with your boss is no different. In my case, my boss and I share little of our personal lives with each other — he becomes uncomfortable. It’s not a matter of "don’t ask, don’t tell"— it’s more "don’t care, don’t ask." Therefore, I keep business as business and don’t try to interject details about my life or ask questions about his. I’ve also learned that it isn’t my responsibility to question my boss’s authority. So there’s no point undermining his plans or vision — it’s not my place.
And, lastly, I know that my boss is introverted and consumed by detail and organization. I’ve judged the most effective communication with him is to be succinct and direct, despite my wantonness to overexplain a situation. Taking time to learn the expectations and limitations you have with your boss can sometimes be just as rewarding as remembering your lover’s birthday or pet peeves.
This Valentine’s Day, remember to send the chocolates, the flowers and the syrupy heart-shaped greetings. And think about The One who should receive them.