fbpx Skip to content

Good Question: I Feel Like My Boss Is Against Me. What Should I Do?


When I first started working for her (she didn’t hire me), she took me aside to tell me she didn’t think I would make it at the company and that I didn’t have what it took to be successful in the industry. I took that as a challenge and set out to prove myself and I did — to other people in the company anyway. Last month I applied for an award that recognizes women in my industry. The application requires endorsement from the company and has room for your boss’s input, so I asked her if she would be interested in supporting the award. She refused, telling me there’s no way I could win. I was dumbfounded but found support from another executive in the company.

I just found out that I won. I’m proud, but it’s created tension at work — co-workers congratulate me in front of my boss and it’s awkward. Also, she is my boss and she seems even frostier now than before. I need to manage this situation in order to manage my career (I don’t want to leave the company; there’s lots of potential here). I feel bullied. How do I handle this boss who clearly isn’t on my side?

ANNA MURRAY has held several key global positions at leading international institutions and currently works on the Corporate Affairs team at Talisman Energy. She has also served as a consultant to the United Nations Global Compact, a body devoted to promoting ethical global business practices.

Here’s the good news: the “worst” bosses are often those you can learn the most from. So let’s keep focused on the possible learnings here and do our best not to make the situation even more emotional than it already is.

My best advice to you is, regardless of how others treat you throughout your professional (and personal) journey, always act with grace, class and dignity. This will help you to navigate adverse situations by taking the higher road and coming out the other end on top. What do I mean?

Don’t fall victim to the gossip train and participate in negative chatter.

Always keep emotion out of the office, focus on being professional and delivering quality work. Get to the office early and leave late; under-promise and over-deliver.

Remember that you are getting paid for the quality of your work output, not to be loved by all.

Focus on building your network.

Keep this in mind: never lunch alone. Take the time to take colleagues out for coffee and lunch. I’d encourage you to meet at least one colleague per week—this includes those who work outside of your department who have differing seniority levels. Building quality connections helps build the safety net we all require.

Lastly, the best piece of advice I ever received was to focus on resilience. So pick yourself up and be sure to create the space to positively reflect on your accomplishment. Remember to focus on the good and learn from the bad. If navigated appropriately, you will be able to look back on this time as key in your development.

Kate-BroerKATE BROER, of Dentons Canada LLP, is Partner in Dentons’ litigation group and Dentons’ Canada Region Co-Chair of Diversity and Inclusion. Champion of women’s leadership in corporate Canada, she received a 2013 Catalyst Canada Honours award.

First of all, congratulations on your award. Despite a difficult situation, you have clearly accomplished a great deal and done many positive things to advance your career, including focusing on what you can control— doing a good job and distinguishing yourself based on your hard work and talent; and building a strong network of allies in the company.

Sadly, it sounds like your boss has not provided the type of support and mentoring that we all ideally hope for. It seems unrealistic, however, to expect that there will be a miraculous change in her behaviour and that she will become your sponsor and champion. You may want to look to others within your organization who can perform that important function for you.

Regarding your boss, consider what may be motivating her: Might she be one of those people who feels threatened by strong talent, rather than someone who appreciates that a strong team contributes to a leader’s success? Is there something you can you do to help her understand that you are not a threat?

I have found that being a promoter of people like this can be an effective strategy in helping them understand that you are on their side.

Even if it has been painful at times, I suspect that you have learned things from your boss that have contributed to your success. Try to find a way to acknowledge her role in that success to others. For example, how about diffusing the awkwardness around being congratulated on your award in her presence by referring in your response to the opportunities you have been given in your boss’s group that have allowed you to grow and develop?

I don’t want to suggest that you are responsible for the difficult situation in which you find yourself, or to minimize that you probably aren’t too keen on sharing the accolades with your boss. However, if she understands that by undermining you, she comprises her own success, it might make her think about changing her tune.

Finally, given the stakes, you may want to discuss an appropriate strategy with an executive coach. Based on your demonstrated achievements, your organization may be willing and motivated to invest in your continued success. Discuss this with your Human Resources Department or other executive allies. It would be a mistake to not reach out and ask for what you need.

Linda-DescanoLINDA DESCANO is President and CEO of Women and Co., a division of Citi. She’s won awards for her professional achievements and dedication to mentoring women. A member of Forbes Executive Women’s Board, Linda also serves as chair of the New York Board of Step Up Women’s Network.

If you are serious about staying with the company, then you must commit to being part of the solution and not exacerbating the tension. That begins with having a clear understanding of what your boss expects from you.

First, schedule a face-to-face to discuss her vision of the key attributes for success at the company, and why she doesn’t think you have what it takes to be successful. Listen more than you talk, and ask for concrete examples. Strike a constructive, rather than accusatory, tone.

The objective would be to align on the top three things that are expected of you, as well as a schedule for regular check-ins.

One idea to explore with your manager is a 360° review, so both of you have more data points to inform your action plan. Document these discussions in an email so you have appropriate records in the event that you aren’t able to reconcile and escalation to HR is necessary.

With respect to the award, always check with your organization’s policy to determine whether any approvals are required before submitting an award application. Even if none were required, I would be transparent and notify my manager in advance of submitting the application. If her endorsement was required and she declined, I would not ask another executive for an endorsement without telling my boss first—and, on the flip side, I would let the other executive know that my manager had declined. Going behind your boss’s back to get what you need may hurt you in the long run, since your behavior will generate mistrust and does not demonstrate respect for her position.

Regardless of the specifics of your individual situation, it’s important to pinpoint the source of your conflict, whether it’s with your boss, a colleague or a direct report. If your issues stem from mismatched ethics, value, or integrity — rather than your abilities — then seek advice and guidance from your ethics office or a reliable internal HR resource to help you navigate the best way to proceed.

Looking for more information about dealing with workplace challenges? The Women of Influence Advancement Centre runs highly-targets one-day courses including “Leadership Through Change and Conflict.” Click here to see our list of upcoming courses.