How to Navigate a Relationship with Your Manager

how to navigate a relationship with your manager

When it comes to your relationships at work, one of the most important (if not the most important) is the one you have with your manager. Regardless of what you think of them or their management style, it’s still essential to develop a relationship built on respect. After all, as long as you report to them, they will play a significant part in your professional growth.

In an ideal situation, you have a boss you like and get along with, and in that case, forming a relationship with them may be relatively easy, but it should still involve a little strategy. While having a boss you don’t like is somewhat apparent, it can also be challenging to form a productive relationship with a boss you do like because it may be so easy to develop that it lacks any professional strategy. No matter where your manager falls on this spectrum, it’s essential that the relationship you build with them is rooted in mutual respect. It’s what will ultimately drive them to support your professional growth. 

Why This Relationship Matters

Your manager directly impacts your day-to-day work life. This person has the power to give you special projects, advocate on your behalf for promotions or raises, and go out of their way to help you succeed. Sure, the role of a manager is to oversee a team of employees and help them reach their potential. Still, we’re all humans with emotions that can influence our decisions, so if you and your boss aren’t clicking. You don’t appear to be at least trying to remedy the situation. It can result in them feeling indifferent about your career growth. No one wants to end up in this scenario. 

It goes beyond just career growth, too. When you have a strong relationship with your manager, you will feel safer confiding in them, whether it’s about struggling with something at work or needing time off because something is going on at home. They’re there to offer support at work, and the more they trust and respect you, the more willing they will be to provide the support both in and outside the office. 

A good manager will already know how important it is to develop a relationship with their employees, but that doesn’t mean the responsibility falls entirely on them — you also need to take an active role in building it.

Be Proactive and Intentional

In general, it’s important to show initiative at work, which is equally valid when establishing and attending regular one-on-one meetings with your manager. Again, most managers know the importance of regularly meeting with their employees for check-ins and reviews. Still, they’re not great at actively scheduling those meetings (or rescheduling them when something comes up and they have to cancel). If you’re in a position where your boss isn’t taking the initiative to schedule one-on-one meetings with you, then take it upon yourself. Ask them if they’d be willing to meet more regularly, even if it’s just for 10 or 15 minutes, and if they say yes, send them a meeting invite instead of waiting for them to do it. 

Once you have regular meetings with your boss on the calendar, make most of your time with them. As they become more routine, you may find yourself preparing for them less (or at all, in some cases) simply because you’re comfortable in the situation. While it’s lovely to find yourself in a situation where your meetings aren’t intimidating, it’s not a good idea to get too comfortable and stop being intentional entirely because you will not be getting what you need from the meetings if you do. 

These regular check-ins with your boss may be a way for them to assess where you are on projects or offer advice or criticism, but they should not only benefit your manager. You should be maximizing the time you get with your boss by regularly discussing how you’d like to grow professionally, opportunities to learn new things, and generally brainstorming with them on how you can get to the next step of your career. No, this does not need to be a weekly discussion, but you should go into your one-on-one meeting with this in mind at least once a month. Even better, come up with some talking points before the meeting so that you’re sure to cover everything you want to during your time together.

More Tips for Making the Most of Your Meetings and Building a Strong Relationship

  • Calm nerves by viewing the meeting as a coaching session rather than a performance evaluation (if your boss treats every meeting as a performance evaluation, then that’s a red flag)
  • Treat the meeting as a collaboration; don’t expect your boss to be the only one who initiates discussions, brings new ideas to the table, too
  • Don’t be afraid to get a little personal so that your boss can get to know you better, but maintain boundaries and professionalism when sharing
  • Actively listen and take notes during your meetings, especially when your boss says they’ll do something so that you can follow up on the points at a future meeting 
  • Be respectful of your manager’s time; if you know you have a lot you want to cover and your allotted time won’t be enough, let them know ahead of time so that they can block off more time for you or reschedule 
  • Strive to keep an open line of communication to strengthen your relationship and help you both feel comfortable talking about even the trickiest topics 
  • Be yourself so that your boss gets to know the real you (there’s nothing more exhausting than having to mask while you’re at work constantly)

It’s a Two-Way Street

As important as it is for you to put in the work to build a relationship with your boss, remember that the responsibility does not fall entirely on you. There should be a mutual effort between you and your manager, and if they aren’t doing their part, you might not get what you need from them to grow professionally. If you feel like they’re not putting in the effort, but a little extra effort in yourself to signal to your boss that you value your relationship with them. However, if they seem unwilling to coach you, get to know you, and help you grow, you may be better off looking for a new job with a manager who is more invested in their employees. 

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