Guest AuthorRaja Jamalamadaka

Here’s how to make your Relationship With Your Boss work in your favor

By | Raja Jamalamadaka | Industry speaker | Neuroscience coach | Marshall Goldsmith awardee | Author | LinkedIn Top voice | IIT | Harvard

In professional life, no single word stirs up as much emotions as the word “boss”. Almost all of us would love having excellent working relationships with our higher-ups – after all, a higher-up has such a significant impact on our performance. Despite this awareness, what do we do about it? Not much, actually. We are very sensitive about the companies we wish to be associated with, prepare well for interviews, negotiate hard for a decent pay and benefits but when it comes to our higher-up, we just leave it to hope and luck.

Is there something we can do to shape this relationship in line with our interests – or is this completely in the hands of our higher-ups? Without denying the base nature of the higher-up, research shows that we play a crucial role in deciding the fate of our relationship with our higher-up – it all starts with how we address and perceive our higher-up. But first, let’s understand ourselves better.

Our emotions and their impact

Imagine you are a patient about to be administered a drug as part of clinical trials. Which of the below statements would impact your decision to approve the drug or not?

 “This drug has a 95% survival rate.”

“This drug has a 5% death rate.” 

Both lines logically mean the same and should have the same impact on your final decision – if anything, the “95%” line should have a higher impact. Unfortunately, the opposite happened in a real-life experiment. In a Nobel-prize winning research, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s “prospect theory” showed that words had a powerful impact on decisions – the presence of the word “death” was enough for people to vote the drug out. The second line – despite having the same meaning as the first – was way more powerful in impacting individuals.

Why does this happen – Isn’t this illogical? It is, but contrary to popular perception, humans aren’t logical creatures- they are emotional animals. Logic is a layer that floats on the ocean of emotions. Words that stir up emotions – especially negative ones – have a tremendous impact on us, our behavior – and on the ones who listen to them.

Now back to our discussions on bosses.

The impact of words on Your boss

After a higher-up joins, the words you use to address her – “boss” Vs “mentor” or “colleague” has a lot of impact on your higher-up as well as yourself. The word “Boss” automatically sends your own brain into a tailspin. Your antenna activate and your brain sub-consciously perceives you as lower down the pecking order affecting your self-esteem negatively. Your start behaving submissively – perhaps even sycophantically – often without your conscious awareness. Your conversation assumes a softer tone, your gaze and even your walk changes reflecting a reduced social status. Meanwhile, your higher-up reacts the opposite way – her brain perceives self as higher up in the corporate hierarchy. Even latent “bossy” tendencies – control, authority – in your higher-up is now activated. Soon enough, your worst fears come true – you soon find yourself face-to-face with an authoritarian 100-pound gorilla.

If words are so powerful, you can use it to your benefit too.

Lets assume you have a new higherup and start the relationship by addressing her as a “colleague” or “mentor”. What happens now? At first, your brain won’t accept this positioning. But soon, “Fake it till you make it” takes over. Overtime, you start accepting this reality and your behavior changes. Your tone, gait, gaze, body language changes. Crucially, your negotiation and self-confidence shoots up allowing for a balanced conversation.  All this shoots up your confidence and you are likely to present the best version of yourself. Your higherup is much more likely to perceive you as a mature colleague leveling the field. Many of these behavioral tendencies start sub-consciously before they show up in conscious behavior.

The same goes for a mentorship relationship. Assuming you perceive your higher-up as having all the qualities of a right mentor but wonder how to make that relationship work, follow the same principle – use the right words engenders the right behaviors and eventually the expected results

Of course, this is not to say that words (and how you address your higherup) single-handedly are enough to change your higher-up 100% – at the end, a higher-up’s true nature will show through. However, our own words – and the resultant beliefs and actions – have an impact on keeping these wrong behaviors in our higherup in check – while simultaneously bringing the right ones out. This is especially vital during the early stages of the relationship when perceptions are just getting created – although perceptions can be changed anytime.  

“Words are free. It’s how you use them that may cost you.”

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Republished with permission and originally published at Raja Jamalamadaka’s LinkedIn

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