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Regaining Your Boss’ Trust

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Maxfield

David Maxfield is coauthor of three New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.

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Crucial Conversations

Q Dear Crucial Skills,

I am struggling to regain my supervisor’s trust. I have made some errors—of omission, mainly—and have been written up. There are some extenuating circumstances such as an ill parent and my own depression and anxiety, but the bottom line is that my supervisor expects me to do my job.

She is micromanaging me now—searching for errors. I am afraid of losing my job, so I am always looking over my shoulder, wondering what she will find next. Fear and anxiety can create more mistakes, and I’m afraid I’ve created a dangerous pattern.

What else can I do to regain her confidence and trust and get out from under the microscope?

Trying to be Trustworthy

A Dear Trying,

Thanks for your brave question. You’ve already avoided two mistakes that keep many of us stuck. You’ve accepted that you aren’t perfect, and you aren’t blaming others for your problems. You are taking responsibility, and that puts you on the right track. I think I can help.

Examine your story. You are telling yourself a very anxiety-provoking story—that your supervisor has you under a microscope, searching for errors, with the intent of firing you. Are you sure this story is correct? Interrogate your story by asking two questions: “Do I really have all the facts I need to be sure my story is correct?” and “Is there any other story that could fit this same set of facts?”

In particular, ask yourself whether you are misreading your supervisor’s motives. We humans tend to see the worst, rather than the best, in others’ motives. This bias is so common that psychologists have given it a name, the fundamental attribution error. What if you are wrong about your supervisor’s motives? What if your supervisor is rooting for you to succeed and sees her micromanagement as “helpful coaching”?

Clarify your intentions. It’s also possible your supervisor has misread your motives, so make them clear. Draw a line between your past errors and your new situation. Sometimes, an apology can be a good way to draw this line and make it clear that your motives are aligned with hers. In addition, do your best to remove any lingering doubts your supervisor might have about the extenuating circumstances you’ve described. Explain how you’ve resolved or stabilized them so they won’t undermine your work going forward.

Take the initiative. Act as if your supervisor is providing helpful coaching, and become the eager learner who is striving to reach perfection. When she searches for errors in your work, tell yourself she is trying to help and make an effort to learn from her. Use these times to ask her about her priorities, and to offer your help. Use this period to hone your craft and become the very best at your job.

Trust comes from sacrifice. Here is the hard part. Meeting the requirements of your job won’t be enough to create the trust you want from your supervisor. Personal trust comes from going “above and beyond” what is required—from making a personal sacrifice to showing your support for your boss’s goals. Often, this sacrifice is of time, effort, or other priorities. For you, it might mean volunteering to do a job nobody likes to do, spending extra time on a task that needs to be done, or getting up to speed on a skill that’s difficult to master. Work to create a reputation for doing more than what’s required.

I hope these ideas are helpful. Do other readers have ideas that could help? If so, please share your ideas in the comments below.

David

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David Maxfield

David Maxfield is a New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and leading social scientist for organizational change. For thirty years, David has delivered engaging keynotes at prestigious venues including Stanford and Georgetown Universities. David’s work has been translated into twenty-eight languages, is available in thirty-six countries, and has generated results for three hundred of the Fortune 500.
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15 thoughts on “Regaining Your Boss’ Trust”

  1. Dear Trying,
    It sounds to me like you also need to establish your accountability again. The definition that I use for accountability is: Doing what you said that you were going to do. In order to do so, there must be clear expectations set. Do you know exactly what your boss expects from you? If you do not know exactly what the expectations are, it is very difficult to deliver the results. So, if you say you will have a project completed by 3:00 pm on Wednesday, make sure that you do that, or communicate with your boss if that deadline needs to change. Each time you meet a deadline or a goal or accomplish what you said that you would do, follow up with your boss, ensure satisfaction and take credit. That will get your boss to see that they can now rely on you once again! Good luck!

    Tony

  2. Depending what you did to get to this point, you might never fix it. If you lied to her and it hurt the business, she is looking out for herself and the company. What would you do if you were the boss and how would you handle it. Most employees have no idea what’s it’s like to be incharge. I had a woman under me who thought she could do a better job then me. I went on vacation, the first day of vacation she was emailing me to come back. You have to remember when you are out, the work is not getting done. Your boss will be taking the heat for that and if you are out for a long period of time, it really looks bad on her part. Everybody has personal problems including your boss but it’s how you deal with them when you are at work is how she is going to respect you. Maybe you need to take a leave of absents to deal with your parents and straighten out your life. If your boss has a human resource dept, they are coming down on her also. You need to look at both side of the situation instead of feeling sorry for yourself. Your boss is probably getting yelled at from her boss due to your situation.

  3. Like you David, I commend Trying for making this brave effort. I can also offer another story for consideration. I have been in the manager’s shoes, with an employee who was at the center of a scandal. In this case, he severely damaged his reputation with the company’s leadership. I implemented tighter controls partly because that’s what was required of me from every level of leadership above me. I needed to do everything in my power to keep this employee on the straight and narrow. Another error in judgement certainly would have made me look bad, but more importantly the employee would have lost his job, which was the last thing I wanted. Fortunately, this employee knew what I was trying to do and worked with me to rehabilitate his image. It took over a year, but he eventually became an indispensible star within the organization.

  4. You are probably not deserving of your supervisors trust yet. I disagree with the comment that you have accepted blame, instead you are deflecting and minimizing it with statements like “errors of omission, made some errors, you then blame it on the family and health problems, instead of telling what you did wrong and saying how you intended to correct your being written up. You whine that your boss is micromanaging (which again shows you deflecting your responsibilities and ownership of the problem) instead of saying she is doing her job and making sure those errors of omission don’t occur again. You need to fall on the sword, apologize for your errors, come clean and state how “you” are going to correct those errors so they do not happen again. Do the job and ask for more until you have shown you can be trusted. It is your responsibility to show you have corrected your patterns of behavior. It can be done and has been done many times. Everyone makes mistakes but they must own them in the end.

  5. Omigosh…as all the above comments this (1) could be me, (2) it may never be fixed, and (3) Trying is making a brave effort albeit I hope not a scandal as is shared in that comment?! In my own situation what I was told was “coaching” was getting to be a very complicated round circle conversation. After two back-to-back weekly 1::1 sessions which consisted of “did you do X from last week?” I called an HR representative to sit in on the third session. The HR rep observed and heard that actual written performance improvement expectations did not exist and my manager was on the verge of harassment behavior! Of course this discovery by HR set up another uncomfortable situation, ie the manager was coached about coaching and I continued to be the “pilot case” for her learning curve. In the long run the situation was and continues to be very awkward and uncomfortable, I don’t believe a working relationship will every be resolved/fixed between us, and I only sentenced myself to forever being under her microscope.

  6. Dear Trying:
    Trust begets trust,and whatever you put out that’s what you get out.Example When you know that negative motives is in play(in your thoughts)automacically negative thoughts is recieved without the person approval which will not be fair to be judge without a hearing.Is the voice that you are hearing is your own preception or from business propective.

  7. Steve is apparently discounting the impact of depression, a mental illness that can usually be treated effectively, anxiety, which can paralyze your ability to function, and serious illness in a parent. These are not “excuses.” They are factors impacting your performance on the job. I hope that the person is getting effective treatment, and that the illness is either resolved in the restoration to health of the parent on the passing.

    Reality is that what is happening in your life WILL affect your on-the-job performance. Employers can either make it easier to function on the job and work with stressed employees to make it work, or they can make it impossible. It sounds like this employer is willing to work with Trying, and time and improving performance will resolve the strain.

    Another story that Trying could consider is that the supervisor is trying to help by making expectations clear, which makes it easier to meet them. After meeting expectations becomes easy, then it is time to start going beyond them.

  8. It’s great to see the variety of perspectives people have added here. The leader’s perspective is a critically unknown element in this situation. Many of us have been in the manager’s shoes, and have seen the many forms that “breakdown of trust” can take. Sometimes trust can be readily regained; other times it is nearly impossible. Others of you have brought up other important ingredients to the problem that would have a profound impact on the strategy you’d want to follow and the outcomes you’d expect to achieve. This question is full of ambiguities and complexities–well worth our collective thoughts. I hope we have helped the person who sent us this challenging question.

  9. Dear Trying,
    I am both a supervisor, and someone who has a supervisor above me. I have been in my current position for 9 years, and I can tell you that sometimes it is still a learning process.

    For me, two keys drivers of trust are honesty, and motive. If you are afraid of losing your job…tell your supervisor exactly that. She should be able to tell you where you stand. If performing as expected and regaining her trust is important to you… tell her that, and have a discussion about your desire to know and do what is expected. This should take much of the guess work out of determining how close you are to being fired, what her motives are, what is required to be successful, what your motives are, etc.

    I am sometimes guilty of micromanaging. The kicker is, it rarely has anything to do with the person or task I am micromanaging, but rather the significance of the result, the impact a mistake would have, or how personally invested I am in our success as a team.

    Many who are not supervisors do not know what it is like, how could they if they have never done it? Regardless of the roles, it is often helpful to try to look at things from their perspective. Perhaps she could have provided coaching feedback earlier, giving you more resources or limiting the amount of time your performance was unacceptable? Perhaps your performance reflected poorly on her/others, and added unnecessary work or stress to her plate? Letting her know that you have considered this, and regret the impact it had is important, as is being clear about what you need from her.

    Lastly, if your company is large enough, they may have resources for working through the underlying causes; depression, ill family members, etc. LifeWorks is one such resource:
    http://www.unum.com/worklifebalance
    Check with HR. Good luck!

  10. I would encourage this person if they were under my supervision to know that in the beginning we all make mistakes and that is part of learning. What I tell my staff when changes to how we do our job or if they are new to the job, is to ask lots of questions, you will make mistakes but you will learn and I accept that, but know that if in 6 months you are still making these mistakes we have a problem. Helping staff to gain their confidence with their tasks is what supervisors do. One very knowledgeable successful business man that I had the fortune of hearing speak said “Did you go to work and give your staff everything they needed to do the task at hand to the best of their ability?” if you can answer yes then you have successes as a good supervisor. While we do not have control over everything we would like to give staff we can share our knowledge, be supportive, and understanding, using the tools we have to help build confidence. No one performs well when being watched like a hawk, and micromanaging creates anxiety which leads to poor productivity.

    I was very distressed to see Steve’s comment as he seems like he has no understanding of human nature and life stress and needs to make an effort to understand Work-Life Balance when he will go far with getting his team to perform at their best.

  11. Dear Trying,
    Your perception of your boss may not necessarily be a reflection of her intention. (underline ‘may’)… But it takes two to tango! Assuming there is some truth in the what you feel, the best way to deal with this stuation is to be as “objective” as possible.
    First, check your behavior. Start seeing neutral (not negative) picture everytime your mind says shes micromanaging. Also look at your delivery pattern, work harder to improve your results. The more your work improves, the better your perception will become
    Second, look for continued meaning in your working relationship with your supervisor. Ask yourself what would you do if you were her and she were you.
    Third, rev your network. Help others. If your peers talk about your elevated engagement and partnerships, your boss will start reposing more confidence in you.
    Fourth, Dont overkill yourself with the thought of job loss. Do the job as if no one else could do it better than you.

  12. I came back to work 2 yrs ago, after being off sick. I had made some mistakes in the first few months and was asked to slow down a little. It hurt my pride of course. I have come to learn from the experience with the help of some mentors that it was for a good reason. I have learned that I do not have all the answers. I ask appropriate questions when I need to. I do the best job I can. Above all I am honest. I also take care of my health. I can’t do a good job if I am too tired, not eating right. I get more energized by getting some exersize. Going for a walk without my cell phone is amazing! Taking some time for myself is very important. Sometimes there is a balance between a crutial conversation and letting it go and doing your job. Sometimes the trust never comes with the supervisor. The other people you work with with see your efforts. You knowing that your doing your best is better than any pat on the back.

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