How To Figure Out Your New Boss

Your relationship with your boss can make or break your happiness at work. Whether you're the new one on the team or your boss is, it can be challenging to figure out your supervisor, but it needs to be one of your top priorities. Try the following strategies to decode your boss's behavior.

figure out new boss

Think Like Sherlock Holmes

This doesn't mean you need to turn into a super-sleuth and start stalking your boss like a private detective. What it does mean is you need to put your powers of observation into action. Pay attention to clues in your boss's behavior that can signal her expectations. For instance, if your boss drinks coffee and checks in with the team before responding to emails, she might lean toward extroversion and place value on cultivating relationships. On the other hand, if your boss heads straight to her office and begins tackling a to-do list, she’s likely more task-oriented.

Look At Written Communication

Read between the lines when it comes to your boss's emails. Are they short and sweet, with heavy use of bullet points, or are they flowery and verbose? Chances are, your boss likes to receive communications in the same style as he communicates. Don't send Mr. Bullet Point a three-paragraph essay. Flex your style instead.

Pay Attention To Your A Boss's Work Friends

As your mother always said, you're known by the company you keep, and that's as true at work as in any other social situation. Who does your boss spend time with? Does she keep to her own peer group, or does she engage in friendly interaction with colleagues at all levels of the company? A smart leader maintains boundaries with her direct reports, but that doesn't mean she can't develop friendly but professional relationships with the team. Your boss's willingness to engage with your peers will let you know how much you can rely on personal rapport as you build a working relationship.

Ask Your Boss About Work Preferences

Whether you're new or the boss is new, the first few weeks of your relationship are the best time to seek clarity on your interactions. There's no harm in asking about his communications preferences. Does your boss prefer regular written updates, or is an organic of-the-moment check-in preferable? Should written reports be written in easy-to-digest bullet points, or is a narrative preferred? Does your boss want PTO requests in writing, or would he rather have a conversation first and follow up by email? In most companies, supervisors have latitude to manage employees in the style they see fit, so long as it's within company policy and the job gets done. It's your job to adapt to the boss's style.

Remember Your Boss Is Human, Too

Above all, keep in mind your boss is a person first and your supervisor second—and your boss has a boss, too, even if that "boss" is the bottom line. If your boss seems distracted or aloof, you need to consider the possibility that her behavior has nothing to do with you at all. Maybe the she’s behind on a deadline—or perhaps she had an argument with a significant other or child. In other words, don't take her behavior personally. It's also important to keep in mind that your boss always has access to more information than you do. A decision you disagree with might make more sense further down the line.

You don't get to handpick your boss, but you do choose your approach to the relationship. Make it positive.

Search for your next job now:


Back to listing

The Washington Post Jobs Newsletter

Subscribe to the latest news about DC's jobs market