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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

3 Reasons You Need to Give Your New Boss the Benefit of the Doubt (Even if You've Been Burnt in the Past)

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Unless you’re one of the lucky few, you’ve probably had at least one bad boss who was so awful, he or she made you question all of humanity. Maybe he was clearly unqualified for the job. Or maybe it felt like she made it her job to send you home crying every day. Or, maybe he just smelled. No, really.

In any case, we’ve all been there. The good news is that doesn’t mean that all your future managers will be just like that person. However, after going through this experience, you’re probably skeptical of anyone put in charge of you. So skeptical, that you put up all kinds of mental barriers. But, here’s why you need to drop those thoughts before you damage your own career.

1. You’re Setting Yourself Up for a Disastrous Relationship

Think about any relationship you’ve had with someone who’s made assumptions about how things will go down. No matter how much of an effort you make to convince that person that you’re not crazy, your relationship will suffer as long as he or she is sure that you are, in fact, a crazy person. The same is true of your relationship with your manager. If you’re convinced that he or she is a terrible person, it will be hard for this person to overcome that. And that’s no good, since he or she should be your number one advocate at the company.

OK, So You’ve Adjusted Your Attitude. Now What?

It’s up to you to feel things out to see if this is appropriate, but in my experience, I’ve actually found that it’s helpful to tell your boss about how you’ve been treated in the past. If he or she has made it clear things will be run differently, take advantage of that and open up a bit about the kind of management styles that you thrive under (and those you do not). Odds are, you’ll find that he or she’s sympathetic to those times your former supervisor hollered at you in front of the entire company—and often, will even be able to relate.

2. You’re Making it Difficult to Enjoy Your Work

Consider this: You’ve wanted to design shoes for as long as you can remember, and you finally get a job with your favorite designer. The only problem is that the person you’ll be reporting to reminds you of an old boss, who reminded you of that annoying kid down the street who used to make you feel terrible about yourself. Except you’ve barely started. And you’re making some really unfair assumptions about a person you just don’t know very well. Even worse, you’ll probably really hate that job just because of those really bad assumptions.

OK, So You’re Open to Getting to Know Your Boss. How Do You Do That?

Fortunately, the solution here is simple: Get to know him or her. Invite him or her to lunch. Ask for a few extra minutes during your next meeting to find out more about what he or she’s like outside of work. Feel free to be creative about how you get to know your new supervisor, but do yourself a favor and find a way to do it before you start making some unfair connections to a terrible manager you had in a previous life.

3. You’re Keeping Yourself From Moving on With Your Life

Trust me, I get it. I understand what it’s like to work for someone who uses meetings to come down on you about all the things he or she dislikes about you. I know how bad of a feeling it is to have to do weekly SWOT analyses about your own work to justify the fact that you’re still employed. But I also know that as bad as those things are, even the most supportive bosses can’t help you get over those previous experiences all by themselves. That part, as hard as it is, is totally up to you.

OK, So That’s Starting to Sink in—How Do You Move On?

The solution really isn’t straightforward. If you’re anything like me, you might have a couple really bad supervisors in a row before you find one who actually does his or her best to support you. So, in the meantime, make more time for the things that make you feel good about yourself. In my case, I started writing more. For you, that might look different. Maybe you’ve been hoping to join a kickball league. Or maybe you’ve gotten a hundred invitations to a book club that you “haven’t had time for.” Make time for activities that’ll give you the immediate confidence booster you so badly need (and deserve!).

There’s nothing fun about working for someone who makes you miserable. However, you’re also not making it easy on future bosses if you assume they’ll all be just as terrible. It’s perfectly normal to need some time to get over previous scoldings at the hand of a miserable supervisor. But, if you want to get up and running at a new job quickly, don’t take those previous experiences out on your current boss.