Image: Applause
Showy displays really won’t work. To get your supervisor to like you, learn their work style and play along.
updated 3/4/2008 4:22:19 PM ET 2008-03-04T21:22:19

Forget about complimenting the boss' tie or her choice in shoes. And if you're thinking of picking the head honcho up a scone and coffee on your way into work, think again.

There's an art to sucking up, and if the boss — or your co-workers — can figure out what you're up to, you're not doing it right. More importantly, it will backfire. Your goal is to develop trust between you and your manager since the projects you work on and whether you get promoted is directly tied to your relationship with him or her.

So while everyone calls it something different, it's key to your success at work. "I call this self-survival," says Faith Ralston, an organizational leadership coach. "It's not fun to play the game, but if you do it to succeed then you're not just doing it to make the boss feel good."

The key is being covert. First up, figure out your boss' style and adapt to it. This encompasses everything from how your boss talks and works — very fast and direct or slow and methodical — to how much daily communication he or she wants. "You build rapport every time you match energy," says Ralston.

Also, give your boss the type of work he or she wants. If your manager prefers reports to include minute details, then provide those details. It may not be the way you prefer to work, but it's what your boss wants and that's all that matters. Don't complain or fight her about it, either. Nobody wants to work with a fighter.

When pitching the boss ideas or offering input, consider your presentation. In other words, don't blurt out, "I have a better idea." Instead, make it seem like the boss' idea. "You'll get more from the people in positions to enhance your career by promoting the boss, not fighting the boss," says John Hoover, an executive coach at Partners in Human Resources Int.

To accomplish this, you might say, "That was a great idea you had last week about the sales strategy. I thought about what you said and put together some ways to execute it based on your ideas." Along the same lines, ask for permission to offer input on the boss' idea. One way of doing that is by saying, "Can I give you some ideas that might enhance this project?" Or, "Would you be open to a different opinion than the one we're talking about."

If you ask for permission to offer your thoughts, your manager will rarely say no. And you gain brownie points because you're showing deference to your boss' position. Another trick: Pay attention to timing. Read when the boss is in a good or bad mood, and work the good side.

The larger issue at hand is respecting the boss' position. This is a new concept to many people, particularly those employees who are right out of school and are used to working independently. You might try saying something like, "I have these ideas, but I will defer to your decision."

If all this feels icky, just hold your nose and remember it's about career advancement. And that's something most people can support.

© 2012


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