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How to Bond With Your Boss

A 10-step guide for buddying up to your manager.
Two businessmen sitting on stairs talking
Your relationship with your boss is an important influencer of how happy you are at work. Westend61 / Getty Images

There are a few golden rules of being an all-star employee: Always be polite to your manager, stay on top of your assignments and make yourself an indispensable member of the team.

Bonding with your boss isn’t something most of us consider imperative to excelling at the office. But having a good relationship with your supervisor has the ability to positively impact the trajectory of your career. A study published in Ergonomics found that a negative work environment leads to high employee turnover rates and researchers at NYU found that employee productivity is directly linked to his or her relationships with superiors.

Clearly, the relationship you have with your employer plays a large role in career success. And beyond being good for your career, a little office bonding is also important for your physical and mental health.

A quarter of people spend most of their time thinking about work — more than they think about sex or money. On top of that, we spend about a third of our time in the office. Hundreds of studies have shown that job satisfaction and health are directly correlated. And your relationship with your superiors is an important influencer of how happy you are at work. One study even linked a bad relationship with your boss to an increased risk of heart disease.

If you haven’t quite buddied up to your boss — now’s your chance. We have some strategic ways to do just that, straight from the horse’s mouth. Here are ten real-life strategies for forging a bond with your superiors at the office.

Be Authentic and Communicate

“My favorite employees are the ones I can be real with. That is what makes an employee stand out: no bullshit, no excuses and no tiptoeing around each other,” says Nicole Caldwell, an editor and small business owner. “If I can't have lunch with an employee, laugh with, be there for them and also push [them] to constantly improve, it makes working together significantly less fun.”

Being real with your boss also means being comfortable giving and receiving constructive criticism. “The most valued talent of an employee is their ability to receive coaching and feedback and implement the suggestions,” says Dr. Jennifer Freed, a family behavioral specialist.

It’s important to remember that your boss is a mentor and should push you to grow. And feedback should be a two-way street: “If you've gotten too many assignments from various managers or had a major hold-up because of another department and you don't tell us about them, we don't know,” says former Executive Food Editor at Thrillist Media and HBIC, Mari Uyehara. Many employees think pushing back will hurt their reputation, but the opposite seems to be true. Managers value the fact that you can voice concerns and work towards creating an environment that is more conducive too to creating quality work.

Take Advantage of Opportunities to Socialize

If your company has fun social events for the purpose of allowing coworkers to mix and mingle, be sure to attend. These are prime opportunities for you to socialize with your boss and develop a friendly repertoire. “You spend so much of your life at work, it just seems ridiculous to me to not work around people whom you actually enjoy,” Caldwell says.

Office happy hours, holiday parties and sports leagues help alleviate any social awkwardness and make it easier to navigate the crossing of certain social boundaries with your employer. The activities will allow you to get to know your boss outside of an office setting, which will foster a deeper relationship beyond that of just an employee and employer.

“My best employees are proactive, genuine and self-aware — meaning that they're always looking forward to the inevitable next step, don't need to be micromanaged and are very open to growth and change.”

A rule of thumb: keep conversational topics light. Don’t go fishing for insider company information or use a happy hour as an excuse to bash another coworker (no matter how annoying he or she may be). And of course, go easy on the booze.

“I'm all about spending time together at work functions. Feel free to chat me about my family, what I do in my free time, vacations etc,” says Mike Fishbein, a marketing executive at Alpha and small business owner. “Just don't go asking me about really personal stuff like my sex life or ex-girlfriends, you know?"

Don’t Overshare

Along with not prying too much into your boss’s personal life comes not oversharing tidbits about your own. It’s great to feel like you’re getting closer to your boss, but be careful about getting too friendly. When it comes to the employee/employer relationship, some topics should remain off limits.

“I once had an employee who wanted relationship advice about her boyfriend. Like really personal stuff. That was kind of weird. I don’t want to know graphic details,” Fishbein says.

This is especially true when your relationship with your boss is a new one. “Read the room,” suggests Caldwell. “Don't divulge too much information about ridiculously personal stuff to someone who really doesn't need to know. You want a healthy line in the sand of how much you want to share up-front with someone you just started working for.”

The key to a good working relationship is finding the balance between connecting on a personal level and sharing details about your life, while avoiding divulging too much. It's important to note that finding this balance will look different based on the work environment. For instance, Caldwell says her work in sex and dating editorial often blurs the lines. “In my capacity as a sex and dating editor a lot of social boundaries just aren't there,” she says. However, in a corporate finance setting, for example, divulging your weekend exploits are likely not fair game.

When in doubt, stick to topics that you know toe the line. “Understanding what’s happening in my employee's life outside of work helps me be both more practical and accommodating,” says Fishbein. “I don’t need to know all the personal details, but knowing about important events like a wedding or vacation helps me manage my expectations by getting to know them better.”

Focus on Work First

You can be the most charismatic person in the office, but no employer is going to like you if you’re not delivering quality work. If you want to buddy up to your boss, the first step is to earn their respect, and the easiest way to do this is to go above and beyond the work expected of you.

“Keep the end goal in mind and do what's required to accomplish that end goal, rather than just what was initially assigned,” Fishbein says. “One time I gave a writing assignment, and my employee questioned whether the topic was right for the client’s brand. She was right! By being proactive about asking to better understand what the end goal of the assignment was, I gained confidence that she had the ability to think critically and get the best outcomes. I knew her career would take off and it did.”

While being friends is great, have your priorities in line. You have to know when to turn off the “good time” attitude, and get to work. At the end of the day, this is your job.

Think: How Can I Support My Boss?

Instead of constantly looking for what your boss can do for you, think instead about how you can make your boss’s job easier.

“Most employees are thinking about what they can get from the job and their boss instead of what they can give to the job and how they can support the efforts of their boss,” says Dr. Freed. “Employees that consistently make an effort [towards] what would be good for the company, and how they can back up the vision of the boss, are the employees that are favored.”

Being proactive and self-sufficient allows your boss to see you as a peer, rather than an employee that needs to be managed.

Being someone your boss can rely on goes a long way, and having a shared vision will bring you closer. It'll allow you to develop a stronger bond over a shared interest in the work.

Earn Their Trust

Just like in any other relationship in your life, trust is an important factor. Being able to take full ownership of your work and relieve your boss of some of his or her duties will allow them to develop that confidence in and reliance on you as an employee.

“Employees that stand out as exceptional consistently make their own calls, and usually they are good calls. They don't wait for me to tell them what to do all the time,” says Laurence Edelman, chef and owner at Left Bank.

Likewise, Polly Rodriguez, CEO of the women’s health brand Unbound, agrees that a standout employee makes a habit of taking ownership and pride in their work and putting the team's needs above their own. "I try to make sure that anyone I hire is someone who will show leadership and dedication to the team's needs so that I can trust them and [we can] bond both professionally and personally from the get-go," she says. "These qualities prove that you genuinely care about the company's needs and allow for more seamless collaboration. That enthusiasm and dedication are exemplary and rare. Any individual who embodies service leadership is someone I want to know and learn from, as I think all employees at all levels can learn from one another.”

Don’t Make Your Boss Treat You Like an Employee

The best way to get some love from your boss? Act like an equal.

“If you want to bond with your boss, in my case at least, don't let me treat you like I'm your boss,” says Edelman. “I'd rather not have to treat you like an employee.”

“My best employees are proactive, genuine and self-aware — meaning that they're always looking forward to the inevitable next step, don't need to be micromanaged and are very open to growth and change,” agrees Rachel Van Dolsen, CEO and founder of RVD Communications.

Always take time to self-evaluate, taking note of successes and failures and putting in the effort to make adjustments accordingly. Being proactive and self-sufficient allows your boss to see you as a peer, rather than an employee that needs to be managed.

Stop Kissing Butt

Instead of being an epic brown-noser, focus on bringing a positive energy to the workplace.

“It sounds a bit hippy dippy, but think about superstars you've worked with, they often have the ability to get people around them excited to do things,” Uyehara says. “An employee who really shines is one who helps foster a positive work environment.”

Brown-nosing is the polar opposite of authenticity. Doling out over-the-top compliments and buttering up your boss with afternoon coffee runs won’t win you brownie points in the long run.

Zero in on the Skills Matter Most

Freed tells us that the best way to solidify a strong relationship with your boss is to pay attention: “Analyze carefully what your boss values and asks for on a regular basis to up your game in all those areas.”

If your boss appreciates timeliness, make a point to stick to the schedule, whether it’s turning in work on deadline or being on time for that Monday morning meeting. If he or she values feedback, make an effort to speak up and add something constructive to every conversation. By figuring out what they see as most valuable in an employee, and honing those skills, you can be the best of the best, which will inevitably increase your bosses opinion of you and open the door to fostering a closer relationship.

Don’t Forget That Your Boss is Human

We tend to put our bosses up on a pedestal — seeing them as inaccessible, intimidating or someone we need to impress. But as you try to forge a closer bond, it’s crucial to remember that they have more in common with you than you may think.

Van Dolsen advises us to, “let it happen naturally! If you're interested in your work and willing to learn and ask thoughtful questions, your boss will appreciate and come to rely on you.”

At the end of the day, your boss is human: “I make mistakes every single day — being willing to learn from them is what's allowed me to evolve and grow,” says Van Dolsen.

Keeping this in mind can be especially helpful if you have a difficult boss. For example, someone who is a stickler when it comes to policies and procedures, or doesn’t have a warm, friendly personality that's easy to connect with. “I think the only way organizations are able to thrive is if their employees know that their bosses care about their well-being — both at work and outside of it,” says Rodriguez.

Bottom line: If you work hard and make an effort to connect with your boss, your relationship will begin to strengthen without the need for over-the-top gestures.

Although, grabbing an extra latte at the coffee shop once in a while never hurts.