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I've transferred to a new division of my company and I find I really can't respect my new boss, a woman. I had a great relationship with my previous boss.

by Miranda Kennett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

What should I do? I don't want to leave the company.

It can be tricky developing a good working relationship with a new boss, especially one who is very different in style from you and different from what you've been used to. The process is bound to take time, as you are also having to contend with the other requirements of transition: getting to know the processes and priorities of the new division, as well as integrating with a new set of colleagues.

Comparing your new boss with your previous one won't help - quite the reverse, it will probably rub salt in the wound. She can never be him, and actually she doesn't have to be: she just has to do her job competently.

Whether she is competent or not, you are unlikely yet to be in a position to judge - you haven't been there long enough. Remembering to seek to understand before you judge will stand you in good stead in this situation.

A client of mine was in a similar position to you in that he had little respect for his boss, a man who lacked knowledge of his specialist area and tended to interfere with the running of his department. He felt angry and frustrated that his future in the company was bound up with this apparently useless individual.

I recognised that it was important for him to get his anger off his chest, so I asked him to list all the things his boss did that annoyed him. Not only did he feel better when he'd finished, but we had some data to use as a basis for discovering what made his boss tick and what were the situations that usually triggered his negative behaviour.

We balanced this by investigating what were his boss's strong points: he obviously had some or he wouldn't have been promoted to his senior position.

Though this list of talents wasn't as long as the list of his shortcomings, we identified several skills that might be valuable if they could be diverted to positive outcomes. For example, his manager had a good nose for organisational politics and some influence in high places, attributes that, properly managed, could be valuable in furthering the causes my client was championing.

He left our session having reframed the relationship, no longer feeling a victim of his manager but now on a mission to use his understanding and ingenuity to make the best of the situation.

His relationship with his boss is much better now and more productive.

He makes sure he praises his boss for the good things he does, flatters him by asking his advice (always careful to select less vital topics for his input), and constructively criticises him when he feels it necessary.

Sometimes we don't respect others because we do not ourselves feel respected.

It may be that your new manager senses your criticism and that, between you, you have created a self-feeding loop of negativity. Ask yourself the question: if my new boss thought I was great, would I also rate her more highly than I do now? If your answer is yes, you have a clear option of seeing whether you can improve her view of you.

I suggest you try one thing: have a meeting with your manager soon to chat about your working relationship. Ask her how she thinks things are going and, if she sees room for improvement, try to engage her in a discussion about how you can each get the best out of one another. Listen to what she says carefully and try to avoid defensiveness. You can make suggestions that you think would improve things between you. The chances are you will achieve a better understanding as a result.

If, when you do understand one another better, you still find it hard to respect her, you can continue to feel sorry for yourself and pine for your old boss, or you can take the opportunity to stretch your capabilities to work successfully with someone different from you. Developing in this area will be invaluable in the future: the more senior you are, the greater the need to have this flexibility.

Most of the above is predicated on the notion that respect is a vital component of boss/report relationships. However, although respect is desirable, it is not essential, and as you get older, you may notice that it gets harder to find people you totally respect in any walk of life. A quick look at our politicians proves the point. Most of us have human failings, and it could be worth considering what you yourself might do to make one of your own subordinates fail to respect you. Judge not, that ye be not judged!

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