My sister-in-law, a lovely woman and former elementary school teacher, once confided in me that all teachers have favorites. The key is not showing it. Judging from the afternoon I spent with her and her class of six-year-olds several years ago, she did an excellent job of hiding her favoritism. I had no idea Curtis was her pride and joy!
Unfortunately, not everyone’s so stealthy. Workplace favoritism is real. And it is rough.
How can you do your job when your boss is buddy-buddy with your cube-mate and barely friendly to you?
I’ve had more than one manager play favorites, and I’d say neglect is right up there with rejection in terms of feeling low and worthless. Finding yourself in a position where you’re not favored (though, being the “star” employee isn’t without its problems, either)—especially if it limits your success at a company or in a position—is bad news for your career.
If your supervisor isn’t professional enough to put her preferences aside, assuming you and your colleagues are equally competent and diligent, you’ve got to know how to manage the situation.
For help in navigating this tricky workplace scenario, I reached out to several Muse Career Coaches, and their advice is spot-on.
1. Behave Normally
Act as if your boss is not playing favorites. The worst thing to do is react in such a way that puts you on your boss’ bad side. Assumptions can be deadly! While you may believe you’re not the favorite [team member], that doesn’t necessarily make you the least favorite either. Avoid becoming your boss’ least favorite by reacting negatively to your manager’s behavior.
2. Improve Yourself
The best you can do with any boss is clarify what he or she expects, do your best to deliver, and get feedback regularly. Focus on doing good work and improving yourself. Bad boss behaviors are usually noticed by others; trust that good companies have management systems in place to catch and correct these situations.
Understand the unique role you play on the team, and go the extra mile to act professional, thorough, and prompt in all deliveries. Advocate for yourself by requesting meetings, proposing new ideas for the team, and demonstrating respect and appreciation for your boss. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted by feelings of neglect, which will only hold you back.
4. Take Control
Make your ambitions known to your boss using clear, straightforward communication: ‘My intention is to receive a promotion this year. The project Sarah has been assigned to is the type of work I’d like to be doing. What can I do to set myself up to be selected for similar assignments in the near future?’
5. Emulate Your Boss
When I was put on a performance improvement plan and felt like my every action was being monitored and judged, I emulated my boss’ work style as best as possible and acted pre-emptively. For example, I worked in sales, and before my boss could ask me how many meetings I had booked for the week, I had already sent her an email letting her know what my week looked like.
6. Toss Aside Emotion
When a boss plays favorites, it usually strikes an emotional chord in us. Emotions cloud our vision—especially in the workplace. Take your emotional blinders off, and strategically evaluate the favorite to see if there’s anything he or she is doing exceptionally well that you too can implement. No one said a boss can’t have more than one favorite.
7. Build the Relationship
Continue to do excellent, high-quality work and build a relationship with your boss. Work on building a rapport and be confident in your abilities without needing someone else’s constant approval.
8. Find a Mentor
Mentors can help you explore other avenues within the organization and find the best fit for your skill set. And, if your mentor can relate, he or she can hopefully guide you toward honing in on your skills, and coach you on how to best get noticed by your boss and other leaders within the organization.
9. Take the High Road
Badmouthing the boss or your co-workers won’t help and could make matters worse. Any signs of anger or bitterness will reflect badly on you. If there are projects or assignments that interest you, take the time to speak to your supervisor about why you should take them on, instead of stewing in the less-than-ideal situation.
10. Maintain a Neutral Attitude
Be consistent about performing at your best with a neutral attitude (you don’t want to be desperate or a brown-noser). Find a point of connection (e.g., shared personal interests, things in common), and try to cultivate it to generate more favorable attention, help you stand out, and, ultimately, improve the situation.
11. Do Your Research
Before you discuss the situation with your boss or HR, think carefully about what’s going on, and consider getting candid feedback from your peers. Why are you being overlooked? What are the other employees doing differently? Don’t lose your cool and speak badly about your perceived ‘favorites’; rather, listen with an open mind so that the conversations leave you with actionable outcomes.
12. Ask for a Favor
Ask for a small, easy-to-deliver favor. The Benjamin Franklin Effect says that if someone does a favor for you, he or she will feel more favorably toward you as a result. Our brains like to justify our behaviors, so when your supervisor does a favor for you, her subconscious will convince her that she did the favor for you because she likes you. Kindness toward others makes people feel good about themselves as well, so your favor will be a double whammy: She’ll feel better about herself, and about you.