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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

4 Surefire Ways to Lose Your Boss' Trust

You could spend years working for the same manager, building your reputation as a hard-working, well-intentioned, always-dependable employee.

And in a fraction of that time, you could lose it all.

It may sound harsh, but it’s true: Trust is much easier to lose than it is to gain. No matter how long you’ve been an excellent and dependable employee, if you adopt some less-than-desirable habits—even for a short while—you can do a significant amount of damage to your hard-earned reputation.

So, to make sure you stay in your manager’s good graces (and continue earning your way to raises, promotions, and opportunities), check out these four easy ways to lose your boss’ trust—and make sure you don’t recognize any of these habits in your own work life.

1. Promising Something You Can’t Deliver

I’ve been on the phone with an angry client enough times to admit that sometimes, employees (myself included) will say pretty much anything to fix the situation—whether that means a refund you can’t actually guarantee, a resolution to a problem that’s completely out of your hands, or a personal callback and apology from the company CEO.

I’ve also been on enough of these phone calls to say that while your solution may appease the client for the time being, when he or she figures out that you can’t actually deliver what you promised, you’re going to have a much bigger problem on your hands.

Not only will your client be angrier than before, but your manager will likely have to assume the role of the bad guy, breaking the news to the client that he or she actually won’t be receiving that refund, resolution, or executive callback.

If your manager can’t rely on you to provide realistic information to your co-workers and clients (or at least the reassurance that you’ll find someone more knowledgeable to provide that information), he or she probably won’t want to trust you with any sort of increasing responsibility.

2. Failing to Return Calls or Emails

Occasionally, I’ll be copied on an email chain where a client complains that he tried calling and emailing his sales rep numerous times, but never heard back—so finally, as a last resort, he’s emailing someone higher up on the chain to get assistance.

We’ve all been there. Emails get buried in overflowing inboxes, voicemails get accidentally deleted (and subsequently forgotten), and, frankly, sometimes other things take priority over responding to a not-so-urgent client or co-worker request.

The thing is, when you let this become a habit, your manager is inevitably going to find out. Frustrated clients will start seeking the next person up the ladder, and the first thing they’ll do is point a finger in your direction and say, “That employee never got back to me.” And your boss will start questioning if he or she can trust you with important clients and big projects—because if you’re not able to respond to calls or emails in a timely manner, you surely won’t be able to meet the big deadlines that carry an even heavier weight of responsibility.

3. Not Recognizing Urgency

Managers aren’t always the best communicators. In fact, one of my former bosses would often send me cryptic to-do messages like “Find Anderson money” or “Check the Wilsons today.” The notes always left me questioning what she needed and when she needed it by—so those tasks often got lost in the shuffle.

It’s one thing if your boss’ requests aren’t clear—but when they are, and you simply ignore the importance and urgency behind them, it’s another story. When your manager says, “I just got a call from a client whose server is down and needs help ASAP. I’m heading into a meeting, so can you give her a call?” it means you need to call (not email) the client at this very moment (not tomorrow afternoon).

In addition, it’s a good idea to follow up once you do. Making your manager constantly check back in with you (“Hey Alice, did you call that client yet?”) conveys that you either don’t truly understand the urgency of the situation—or that you do, but you’re choosing to ignore it.

When it comes down to it, it’s much better to clarify with your boss at the time of the initial request than wait to see what happens if you procrastinate just a little.

4. Not Filling Him or Her in Until the Last Minute

Client escalations don’t usually come up out of the blue. Most times, customer blow-ups arise slowly, festering in anger until just the right moment. Sure, you usually recognize the growing anger, but it doesn’t seem necessary to bother your manager with the details until you truly need him or her to intervene.

Unfortunately, when the situation does blow up, the frenzied request to your boss usually ends up sounding like this: “So, Jim from the Smith account is absolutely furious, and he wants a full refund processed within an hour. He’s on the phone now, demanding to talk to you. I’ll transfer you the call, OK?”

When you drop that kind of bomb, you force your manager to jump into a situation that he or she didn’t expect and knows essentially nothing about—which makes it incredibly difficult for him or her to assuage the situation.

Each time that happens, your boss becomes less likely to trust your instincts and more likely to check up on you more often, ask about your current projects, and make sure you don’t have any other escalations brewing. So while it shows initiative to try to resolve a situation on your own before unnecessarily involving your manager, it’s more important to keep him or her in the loop as things progress.

When you ask for what you need, keep your boss informed, and take total responsibility for your work, you’ll prove to your boss that he or she can trust you with anything. And before you know it, you’ll start seeing more opportunities, bigger projects, and an overall boost in your career.

Photo of office worker courtesy of Shutterstock.