Try to talk calmly with boss who is blocking your career


A manager at General Electric assumed she had a bright future at the company. That is, until she got a scathing performance review from a new boss. He called her "aggressive and abrupt," and suggested that she "needed to smile more in the hallway."

The woman was shocked. In her three years as a computer scientist for G.E., she had received nothing but positive evaluations. Unfortunately, the new boss' review marked a turning point. Each time there was a possibility for a raise or promotion, he blocked her career path.

If you've ever had a boss stand in your way, you know how devastating it can be.

By the time the computer scientist left G.E. last year for a great job as director of information technology at another highly respected firm, she had made a number of mistakes. For instance, she had complained to human resources and issued )) an ultimatum to her boss: Give me the raise I deserve, or I'll quit. Not surprisingly, the boss dug his heels in deeper. Here's how she might have approached things differently.

Meet the boss head-on. Unless your superior has done something illegal or broken company rules, it's best to resolve differences yourself. Going to the company's human resources department, which usually has very little power, should be a last resort. Assume that anything you say will get back to your boss. If you step outside the chain of command -- by taking your complaint to your boss's boss -- you risk a double-whammy: further alienating your supervisor and giving the impression that you can't manage your own conflicts.

Ideally, schedule an appointment promptly with your immediate supervisor to talk about your career and the talents that you bring to the team. Calmly summarize your achievements, and ask whether the manager agrees with your evaluation. Then inquire about what you need to do to advance to the next level, whether your goal is a promotion, a raise, or more responsibility.

Another strategy is to fish around, or even probe directly, for information about future projects on the boss' agenda. Make an effort to help. In the process, you position yourself as a valuable resource, and -- provided your boss takes you up on the offer -- you get a chance to show your skills.

Look for creative ways to improve your visibility, job satisfaction and sense of self-worth. Maybe you're working on a key project that your boss isn't involved with, or can take on extra assignments that will put you in touch with other departments. A compliment from someone who appreciates your abilities, can lift your spirits and improve your performance.

By making new contacts, you may also get the scoop on imminent job changes -- and find people who are willing to (discretely) put in a good word if you apply for new positions. One last strategy, when nothing else works: the next time you hear about an opening, recommend your boss.

Deborah Jacobs, a business writer specializing in legal topics, regularly contributes to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Newsweek. Write to her c/o Chronicle Features, 870 Market St., Suite 1011, San Francisco, Calif. 94102. Please include your name, address and telephone number.

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