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Midway through my job as a relatively new recruiter at a consumer packaged goods company in Chicago, I was assigned a new boss. From the beginning, I didn’t like her. She never asked me how I was doing. She began and ended every meeting with pleasantries, but it was all business.

So I asked her, “Why don’t you ask me how I’m doing?”

She paused and said, “Because I really don’t care.”

Then she added, “You never ask me how I’m doing. We don’t have that kind of relationship. I thought we understood one another.”

At the time, I was upset. I remember going back to my office and crying. And I didn’t last much longer in that job because my feelings were hurt. I never had someone speak to me so directly. I was offended. I thought she was a bitch.

With a little hindsight, I realize that my boss was right. I didn’t care how she was doing. Not at all. Because I have a complicated relationship with my parents, I just wanted someone with power and prominence to show interest in my life. I wanted to be validated. That’s not very fair of me. It’s also not very mature.

I can’t be the only one who brings baggage into the work environment and expects my boss to read my mind. I think far too many of us expect our leaders and bosses to be quasi-parents. So I’ll tell you what I learned from that experience: It’s nice to make a personal connection with people at work, but it would be great if we lowered expectations at the office and raised them for ourselves.

Need to be validated? Feel misunderstood? Wish you had someone who cared about you? Angry or upset because you’re not allowed to express yourself at work? Those are all valid feelings. Be curious about why you feel that way. Be a journalist with your life, ask yourself why, and be patient as the story unfolds.

There’s a tremendous amount of toxicity in the modern workforce. Lots of tension and stress. Maybe your boss is a jerk, or maybe she’s a nice person who has her own internal struggles and challenges. Maybe it’s not about you. Maybe she’s just trying to be professional and get through the day. But it’s easier to be disappointed with your boss and your colleagues than it is to be honest with yourself.

Want to make a human-to-human connection and find a friend at work? Demonstrate some personal leadership in your own life, first.

2 Responses to Maybe it’s Not Your Boss
  1. kentropic

    Self-awareness, FTW! Along those lines, I was about to include a link to David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water,” his 2005 address to the graduating class of Kenyon College. But then I found an article that helped me see how I’m just another well-meaning uncle with an AOL email account: “How the Best Commencement Speech of All Time Was Bad for Literature” (bit.ly/1OK9o20). Enjoy!

  2. Keith

    Love it. Shared it with my contacts on linkedin, hope you don’t mind.