How To Deal With A Boss Who Plays Favorites

MyBossThinksI'mAnIdiot_SlideIllustrated by Mary Galloway.
My boss is pretty blatant about playing favorites — and I'm not one of them. She's especially chummy with two of my coworkers (her subordinates) and it’s gotten so bad that recently, I approached the three of them after a meeting, and she excused herself when she saw me coming! I’ve spoken to HR about it, and they said she gave me a good performance review so I had no cause for concern. And, yet, she is so dismissive of me that I spend most of my day, everyday, paranoid that she doesn't like me or worried I’m going to be ignored in meetings. I’ve been looking for other work, but so far, no dice. Should I just take this job and shove it even if I don't have another one lined up?
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Dr. Veronica Medina, Doctor of Organizational Psychology, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
Before you make any moves, I suggest you have a meeting with your supervisor to discuss your concerns. As intimidating as this sounds under the present circumstances, you’ll feel more comfortable if you go in as if you two are colleagues and equals, instead of with the uncomfortable and awkward dynamic she’s created. The most important thing to remember is this: The current dynamic was created by your supervisor, not you, and it points to her failure in leadership effectiveness — not any perceived character flaw of yours.
Even if you did do something to make her dislike you, her senior rank demands a higher level of professionalism. So, if a member of her team feels uncomfortable, then the workload suffers, and it’s her responsibility to acknowledge and correct the issue. And, if she's not doing it on her own, then you have a right to address the issue and ask for a solution. Now that you're all pumped up, I’m going to tell you how to handle this situation like a boss:
Outline An Ideal Outcome
The best-case scenario is that you talk it out and she is so impressed by your assertive problem-solving skills that you get into your boss’ inner circle, she high-fives you in hallways, and shouts out, “There she is!” whenever you walk into a meeting. Worst-case scenario is that you address your discomfort by recreating Beyoncé’s "Why Don't You Love Me?" video, leaving your boss so confused and uncomfortable that she reports you to HR. Though the latter would be fun and might even get you transferred, let’s not go there. Remember: Your No. 1 goal is to improve your working relationship. Remain calm and display confidence as you communicate your concerns.
Stay Focused On Your Goals During The Conversation
You might feel tempted to point out all of the times she’s made you feel bad, but the most productive use of your time would be to thank her for the kind review, then say you’re glad to be a part of the team and want to know if there’s anything you can do to be a more integral part of it. In other words, be positive; a laundry list of times you've been wronged isn't going to make anyone feel better.
This approach gives you an opportunity to learn more about what she likes to see in her employees’ performances. Though there’s no excuse for her unprofessional dismissiveness, it could be that she prefers a certain work or communication style that differs from your own. If this is the case, you shouldn’t try to change who you are, but you might attempt to be proactive and do more of the things you know she responds well to. Everyone likes to see results, even with small changes, so your calling the meeting then rising to her standards shows both initiative and ambition.
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Get In The In-Crowd
Make an effort to talk to your peers — even the ones you feel are getting the preferential treatment. If you’re feeling left out of the office camaraderie, it's important to start working on developing relationships with your colleagues. It's likely that you spend most of your time in the office, so as long as you have a few pleasant relationships, the environment overall will feel less tense.
Gaining insight into office dynamics should alleviate some of the stress you are experiencing; things are often easier to deal with once you have more context. And, once you have an understanding of your supervisor’s behavior, you should take a minute to honestly reflect on any way you could have possibly contributed to it. If you're 100% certain that you're free from any blame, ask yourself if you even care about this woman 20 years your senior acting like a middle-school diva. It is not your job to be liked — you're not getting paid for that. If you know your personal and professional value, then nothing else matters. Good luck!
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