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How to Build a Strong Relationship with a New Boss


Oct. 10, 2016 Harvard Business Review

Your boss has decided to move on, and someone else is taking his place. How should you establish a positive, productive working relationship with your new manager? How do you get to know them without seeming like a kiss-up? And what’s your role in getting them up to speed on the job?

What the Experts Say
It’s important to start off on the right foot with your new boss. “Recognize that people do draw some impressions about you pretty quickly,” says Karen Dillon, coauthor of Competing Against Luck and the HBR Guide to Office Politics. And it’s on you to make sure those first impressions are positive. Your new manager likely has a lot on her plate, so take responsibility for establishing a great working relationship from the start. Don’t focus on what you need; put yourself in her shoes, advises Michael Watkins, chair of Genesis Advisors and author of The First 90 Days. “Keep asking yourself, ‘How can I help them get up to speed faster?’” Here’s how to build a strong rapport from the first day.

Look for common ground
Before your new boss arrives, try to find out a little bit about who they are, what their interests are, and what their track record has been, says Watkins. If you know people who’ve worked with them in the past, reach out. Or you might peruse their LinkedIn profile or social media. Finding common ground over family, a favorite sports team, or a shared extracurricular activity can be a great ice breaker. “It may not be possible to have a deep, great connection in the first few days or even few weeks,” says Dillon. “It might take a little time to get there.” But keep an eye out for anything you share in common as you start working together.

Have some empathy
Even though you may be anxious to prove your worth to a new boss, try to see things from her perspective and know that she is under a lot of pressure of her own. Dillon says she still remembers meeting one new report and the great impression she left. “I had met so many people that day and she was one of the last,” Dillon says. “She just handed me her résumé and said, ‘I just want you to know a little bit about my background. Read it at your convenience. Here’s the gist of what I do. When you’re ready, I look forward to talking to you about how we work together.’ It was just a few minutes. But it was so sensitive to me, so emotionally intelligent to me as the new manager.” Bosses will likely notice your empathy in those first challenging weeks. “Try to understand the nature of the change they’re going through, and what they’re going to find challenging, and help them with that,” says Watkins.

Don’t lay it on too thick — or too thin
New managers will be able to see through excessive boasting or kissing up pretty quickly, and most are wary of overt political operators. “Don’t try to curry favor with the boss immediately,” says Watkins. “But it’s also not a good idea to step back and stay in the background,” he says. “The best course is somewhere in between.” Dillon agrees. “At a minimum, aim for neutral,” she says. “There are so many people who are so eager to make a good impression on the new boss that it actually can get exhausting and overwhelming,” she says. Show some hustle and be proactive those first few weeks, but don’t go overboard.

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