There are times when things are humming along at work – you’re doing work that you enjoy and that challenges you, you’re feeling a sense of accomplishment and self-worth, and you’re working with people that you enjoy (and that challenge you for the betterment of your results). Those are great times in a career.

On the flipside, there are times when you feel off-kilter at work – you’re unclear about what is expected of you, constant change is creating instability and insecurity, and your relationships are hampered by distrust. These are just a few of the potential stressors that many of us face at work, but I find that these three are fairly common. In fact, one experience that we all eventually face – getting a new boss that you do not know – can turn your humming along into off-kilter overnight. If you have or will soon have a new boss whom you do not know, whether it is someone within your organization or outside of it, here are ways to deal with these three stressors.

  • Unclear expectations – it’s difficult to go from working for someone that you know well and have figured out how to work with to someone whom you do not know at all. And when they come from outside of your organization, you don’t even have the benefit of learning about them from your colleagues and internal network. You don’t know what to expect of them, and you don’t know what they will expect of you. If you have the opportunity to participate in the interviews for your new boss, you can ask questions that may reveal information about the new boss’s expectations, which is wonderful. If you don’t have that opportunity, once they are onboard, expectation setting should be one of the first conversations you have – How can you support their onboarding? What information do they need to understand the work that you (and your team) are doing? What do they see as their mandates or objectives stepping into the role? As time progresses, conversations about expectations (yours and your new boss’s) should be a consistent part of your regular one-on-ones.
  • Instability and insecurity – When you get a new boss, it’s hard not to feel like you are starting all over and need to re-prove yourself and re-demonstrate your value with this new person. You may feel unsettled and suddenly worried about your job and future prospects. It’s helpful to be able to talk about those feelings and fears with someone you trust – a mentor, friend, trusted colleague, or your coach. Talking it through can help ease your fears and give you renewed confidence, so that you are less likely to react to your fears and exhibit behaviors that could actually sabotage you. Taking time to inventory your strengths and the value you bring can also boost your confidence and help you to reconnect with what makes you an important ally and asset to your new boss. Plus, as you get to know your new boss, you will be better prepared to appropriately share your strengths and value with them.
  • Distrust – If you are someone who tends to approach new relationships with caution, then it will be important to focus on building trust between you and your new boss. Even if you are great at new relationships, maybe you saw or heard things from your new boss that are giving you pause or making you concerned about their motivations or intentions. Again, building trust is essential. My friend and coach colleague, Mary Ann Singer of Synergy Consultants, recently shared an acronym, BRAVING, from storyteller and researcher Brené Brown that gives us seven keys for building trust in relationships:

Boundaries – How clear are you about setting and respecting each other’s boundaries?

Reliability – Do you do what you say you will?

Accountability – Will you own your mistakes?

Vault – Do you keep confidences when others share?

Integrity – Do you walk the talk and actually practice your values rather than give them lip service?

Non-judgment – Can you be yourself or share your true feelings in front of others without being judged? Do you refrain from judging yourself when you need support?

Generosity – Can you assume generosity of intent and spirit about others and their behavior and maintain a positive perspective?

Mary Ann noted that BRAVING requires us to be “open, vulnerable, and willing to take small steps to shift.” That mindset can serve us well when we are navigating a new relationship with a new boss. Being open to learn about the person and to do things in different ways; being vulnerable in order to let down your guard and express your hopes and concerns; and taking small steps can all move you toward forging a strong and trusting relationship with your new boss.

Having a new boss can be a challenge and will most likely have ups and downs as in any relationship. Being proactive and intentional about keeping communication open between the two of you, setting expectations early (and often), acknowledging and appropriately handling your fears and feelings of instability, and trusting and building trust over time will help you to reach a point where you are once again humming along with another great relationship with your manager.

What was your experience like with a new boss that you did not know? How did you build that relationship?
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