How can I do something nice for my boss?
March 26, 2014 7:36 AM   Subscribe

What can I do for my boss that would be nice? I am trying to get back into her good graces and a suggestion was made that I do some one nice thing for her each week. I don't know what she is into. She's not into any of the things that I am. I do know that. Although, I don't necessarily think that matters.

I think actions are best, as giving someone gifts is just tawdry. Plus I have tried that route with other people and it doesn't work. What do you suggest I do for my boss, on a weekly basis, that might be nice? I think conversation would be best, but I have a hard time talking with her. She talks about herself a lot...which makes it easy because all I need do is listen, but most of the time I don't know what to say. I'm very anxious. I don't want to get another bad review. More importantly, I do not want to lose this job before I find another one.

Other people on staff are aggravated....and when I say other people I mean everyone. I just really want to keep my interactions as positive as possible.
posted by Jewel98 to Human Relations (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The best thing you can do is just do a really good job at your actual job. Anything else is going to seem like sucking up.
posted by something something at 7:38 AM on March 26, 2014 [59 favorites]

You can't do anything outside the bounds of your job. One thing you should do, in case you haven't already, is a weekly (or possibly daily, depending on what kind of job you have) status report. When bosses have an employee not performing well, what they want is assurance that the employee is turning it around, and the best way to do that is to proactively email a status report on the stuff you're doing.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:41 AM on March 26, 2014 [9 favorites]

Channel this positivity into your attitude on the job. Do not be a suck-up, but raise everyone's boat by being a positive, upbeat and ethical worker.
posted by jbickers at 7:41 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there something job related you can do to take something off of her plate? Sending out a weekly email, pulling together reports, pulling numbers off a database, etc. Of course, you have to ask before you do something like this, and if you are already not meeting the minimum requirements of your own job, she is not going to look kindly on you taking on additional tasks.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:43 AM on March 26, 2014

What do you suggest I do for my boss, on a weekly basis, that might be nice?

Your job!

She's your boss, not your buddy.

If you're doing your job well and getting bad reviews because you're not doting on your boss hand and foot, then you need to start looking for another job because your work environment is toxic.
posted by phunniemee at 7:44 AM on March 26, 2014 [9 favorites]

Sucking up doesn't work unless your boss specifically wants a sycophant around. Do your job as best as you can and be a decent person in the office. If she looks like she needs a hand with something, offer to help. But if you're already on thin ice for not doing your job well enough, don't start visibly doing more things that aren't your job.
posted by griphus at 7:45 AM on March 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

What can I do for my boss that would be nice?...I don't want to get another bad review.

The nicest thing you can do for her is your job, well. Don't try to butter her up to prevent another poor review; actually improve your performance to prevent another poor review. Anything else would be unprofessional at best.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:46 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Where did this suggestion come from? If it was from within the office, that's just weird and toxic. Do your job, focus well, and consider doing weekly-ish status updates to show how seriously you take doing a good job and communicating about that. If it came from someone outside your workplace, that person has given you really bad and weird advice that you shouldn't take.
posted by amelioration at 7:48 AM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Doing people who don't like you a favour doesn't improve their opinion of you. I heard of this when studying cognitive dissonance theory, but apparently it's called the Ben Franklin Effect.

Which, naturally, would also be a good band name.
posted by cardboard at 7:50 AM on March 26, 2014 [7 favorites]

Learn to 'manage up' very well - communicate with her, keep her in the loop on main issues that come up, ask for her decisions on major points.

She gave you a bad review? What did she say? Fix those things she didn't like.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:56 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with the comments above. It sounds like you got a bad review. Are therE actionable items on there to work on? I'm thinking things like punctuality, attention to detail, adhering to deadlines etc and not the more vague "needs improvement".

Is your workplace encouraging of life-long learning? If so, suggest a few courses you have researched yourself in your free time that fit in with improving your performance in specific ways. "Hey boss, in my review you said my presentations to students were weak. Can I go to a one-day course to get pointers on how to improve? There is a course on [date] for how to use power point and another course on [date] for how to speak comfortably in front of a group. Do you think either would help me?"

If you are going to her with a problem/challenge you are hoping her to solve first think it though and have a few solutions ready to suggest. "Hey Boss, I have been unable to move forwards on filling these orders according to our current procedure. It appears the [responsible person out of our department] hasn't signed off on final authorisation. I have attempted to contact them three times in the past week. Should I contact their department head in case they are ill? If not, can I revisit this file in a week and instead focus on the next twenty orders that do have authorizations?"
posted by saucysault at 7:57 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nix all forms of gossip. None. Nada. Do not get sucked in by co-workers either.

Ditch all forms of sarcasm.

Pull out your job description and use it as a checklist to make sure you are doing your job. You imply here that you've had bad evaluations (I'm so sorry - this sucks). But this means you have documentation, right? Pull those out and put them on the top of the checklist of job activities. Focus on righting those points that put you in the red zone.

Smile. Make eye contact in meetings and participate. Respect your co-workers boundaries. Oftentimes negative reviews are encouraged by coworker feedback, so being nice to them all as well as your boss will only help. It's better to say nothing than something negative or critical.

If your job is email heavy, proof read each email before you send when you are done writing. Is there a human component to them? This was a biggie for he - I never realized that my emails were coming off as robotic demands rather than kind requests and reminders.

Small talk. I know it sucks, but put on the grown-up pants and just do it. Listen to what people are chatting about and find the common thread (hell, I work with one of the coldest persons ever, but I found out she has a dog through listening and that was my in. We now chat about out dogs on a regular basis). People respond well when they feel like you value what they say (remember small things) and are interested in them. Then just be positive!

You can totally do this. Good luck!!
posted by floweredfish at 8:03 AM on March 26, 2014 [7 favorites]

Bring cookies or other treats. It's goofy that it works, but it does.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:18 AM on March 26, 2014

I just ended 3 years of lurking to answer this question. As a supervisor, all I can offer is my experience. I want to be able to rely on my people and their ability to do their jobs with a minimum of drama. That's it. I'm uncomfortable when people I work with are overly attentive to me because I'm always waiting for them to come back with a special request.

Whenever I have to give someone a less-than-stellar review, it has never been a surprise to the employee. These conversations should be happening early on, in order to help him/her improve. I hope that's been the case in your situation. If it hasn't, take every cue given in the review and document what you've done to improve. Make sure you're having conversations (about work) with your supervisor on a regular basis as a way to check in on your improvement. Good luck!
posted by HortonHearsWhat? at 8:18 AM on March 26, 2014 [12 favorites]

I think that if you're going to suck up to your boss, you need to do it within the bounds of professionalism and trying to do a better job rather than just doing personal things for her that will butter her up somehow. The latter would appear sycophantic and is actually likely to make her like you less.

If you don't have regular one-on-one/status meetings with her now, that would be one approach to take. Tell her you know you need to improve your performance and you would like to check in with her regularly in order to discuss what you're doing and how it's going. If yours is the kind of working environment where this is plausible, perhaps you could suggest keeping those meetings casual and having them over coffee rather than having them be formal meetings in her office, but do try to get them directly on her calendar rather than as a catch-as-catch-can thing, since in the latter case, they won't really happen.

Also, I'm not clear from your question whether your coworkers are aggravated with you or with her. If it's with you, you can also ask her for her advice on how to repair the situation with your co-workers as part of those check-in meetings. You need to not make that her problem to solve, though -- people like people who look to them for advice, but not so much people who cause them extra work.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:21 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Basically, what everyone above has said about good job performance, not good ass-kissing. You can demonstrate you're serious about improving your job performance by asking for advice, strategies or getting your proposed work flow approved by supervisors and bosses.

BUT if you have been given negative feedback that's not about a specific professional shortfall or task failure, but is rather the sort of management disapproval that's fuzzier and seems to signal to you that your boss doesn't think you're "nice enough", you might be suffering some consequences from either a) being an introvert; b) being a more private person than your co-workers; c) preferring to keep your work hours all business or any other of cultural conflicts which stem from you not being out-going or chatty. You should NOT IGNORE management signals that indicate you're on rocky footing for a personality disconnect but you don't solve them by "doing something nice for your boss".

St Peepsburg's comment about "managing up" is good, especially if you can seem friendly--but professional--while doing it. Do you pass by your boss's or other manager's offices on your way in and out of the office? Say "Good morning, boss!" or "Have a nice evening!" Even if you haven't caught their eye as you pass, but especially if you have (unless they're on the phone, of course). If you pass your boss in the breakroom, make small talk; don't put your head down and hurry past. Running to the lobby coffee shop--OCCASIONALLY ask if you can grab your boss something. Be a few minutes early to the staff meeting and chit chat. Floweredfish is spot on with the "smile and make eye contact" advice. Just as HortonHearsWhat? says it's uncomfortable to have staff be overly attentive to a boss, it's also uncomfortable to work with a loner.

If you're naturally shy or generally not into casual socializing, this can feel horrible or it can annoy you that it's necessary. Trust me that it is necessary to appear friendly and like a whole person who generally likes her job and co-workers in order to keep a job, regardless of how objectively good you are at any given professional task.

Although women suffer more from this than men, it's not entirely a "girls have to be nice" problem, but rather a "co-workers & employees have to connect at least a little on a personal level with each other and their supervisors" problem. I had trouble in several jobs early in my career because I'm just terribly uncomfortable around most people; I'm not good at casual socializing and I tend to want complete mental isolation while I'm working. I was the employee who would go an entire week without saying a single word to a co-worker or anything to my boss more than "here's that report" or "how should I prioritize these tasks?" That puts people off and it reflects badly on an employee, even if her work is good.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:24 AM on March 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you are doing this in response to a negative review, then you need to have a, for want of a better term, "performance plan."

This means that you acknowledge whatever it is that your boss wants you to improve, identify processes that will help you improve, and then implement them. You also want this to be discussed and confirmed on a regular basis.

What I'd suggest is a status meeting every two weeks, where you come in with a list, and show her your progress on the items.

First, take all fo the negative feedback you got, and reframe it as SMART Goals.

So, if negative feedback you got was that your reports are poorly proofread, then the corresponding goal would be:

1. Develop a process for proofreading reports prior to distribution by May 31, 2014.

It fits all of the SMART criteria.

Then develop and DOCUMENT the process. Use the document every time you do the report.

You should meet with your boss to get on-going feedback on all of the goals you have mutually decided upon.

This is how you get feedback and can make changes, and this shows her that you're serious about improving in these areas.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:31 AM on March 26, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone that was very fast. The work I exceed at. The interpersonal stuff I stink at. I should have put that in the description. I got poor marks for communication and interpersonal interaction with staff NOT others which my organization serves. I'm working on the interpersonal stuff as much as I has made a difference...I guess i am just looking for more. To the person that came out of lurking for 3 years to answer THANK YOU very much.
posted by Jewel98 at 8:45 AM on March 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

On the interpersonal front, if you're willing to shell out a little cash to keep it stocked, candy jar on your desk. Everyone wants to stop in and grab a piece of candy from the person with the candy jar on her desk, and they will stick around and chat a little about what's going on in their lives. (Also, you can gauge office stress levels by how fast the candy disappears, and people love it if you figure out what they like and keep that in stock.)

If someone else keeps the office snacks supplied, do them a solid and contribute a bag of candy or clementines or whatever to show you appreciate them usually taking care of that job.

Otherwise, yeah, as suggested above - listen a lot, try to figure out what people like to talk about. Remember if someone had a really project/interaction they were worried about and ask them later how it went, or better yet, ask up front if you can do anything to help out. Offer to help someone out with a tedious job.

I'm terrible at small talk and social anxiety stuff too, but you can get a long way on figuring out what will get someone else talking and then just letting them ramble on, with the occasional encouraging remark or head-nod.
posted by Stacey at 9:27 AM on March 26, 2014

Seriously, cookies or food treats. Hell, put a jar of candy on your desk. People are simple.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:28 AM on March 26, 2014

Thinking about it further - do you have anything personal in your workspace? Pictures of a pet, a kid, a trip you took, a decorative toy or origami flower? If not, maybe put something up - give people an in to talk to you about something. People really like my origami flowers and my TARDIS. Likewise, you can ask about something in your coworkers' space. No, you probably don't REALLY care exactly what pretty beach that is in that picture, but if you ask about it you give them a chance to tell you a little bit about that great vacation they took, and you can have two minutes of a nice warm fuzzy outside-work conversation and build a little goodwill.
posted by Stacey at 9:33 AM on March 26, 2014

I have this trouble all the time at work too, because I'm a fairly private, introverted individual. The trick for me was to seek out the most extroverted person in the office, because they were usually a) willing to talk without asking me to talk too much in return, and b) often quite friendly. I'd usually discreetly scan said friendly extrovert's desk for something to ask about (a picture of their kids, pets, etc.).

After I did that a few times, everyone found me slightly more interesting, because I was making the effort, and also because the office extrovert gave me some good jumping off points for things to talk to other co-workers about.

I tend to have a hard time just jumping into conversations, hence talking to the friendly office extrovert, because 9 times out of 10, she'd start the conversation for me instead, thus saving me the trouble of figuring out how to break the ice.

Also, baked goods. I made a pie and brought it in for "pi(e) day" at least two years ago. Everyone STILL raves about that key lime pie.
posted by PearlRose at 10:04 AM on March 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yup, it's really dumb, but bringing in food is a great way to fake being an office extrovert. Do you have a pet? Bring a picture of the pet and put it somewhere prominent in your cube. And comment on other peoples' pictures! It doesn't have to be much, just, "omg, cute kid!" or "aww I love that kitty, what's it's name?"

Don't be nicer to your boss than you are to other people but don't be LESS nice, either. Some companies encourage a higher level of distance between employee and manager, but yours doesn't sound like that type.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:50 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

You said the other employees are aggravated. Are they aggravated by you or by her? If by you, what are their complaints?

First make sure you are not doing something negative. Nice actions do not cancel out negative things. You asked a previous question entitled "Take this job and shove it". Is this still the same job or one that you actually like?

Try to put yourself in the shoes of your boss. Imagine you have her schedule, her responsibilities, her insecurities, her manager, her metrics that her own performance review depends on. Really take 15 minutes to thoroughly picture this. Then what would you want?
posted by cheesecake at 11:14 AM on March 26, 2014

Another interpersonal work thing that is important is being clean and neat. If your desk is messy or you microwave food that bothers people (lots of fish, for example) it makes the interpersonal stuff a little tougher.
posted by sockermom at 12:04 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

in addition to what other people have said: go out of your way to notice and greet people who are outside of your immediately relevant circle. Be nice to the receptionist and admins especially. Smile at people and say hi as you pass in the hall. You don't have to chatter constantly, but try to keep a smile on your face as you're walking around in the office, and especially as you come in in the morning. Small talk can and should be brief but something like "hey that training was super useful" or "oh is that your dog's photo? cute!" can really make a difference in someone's day and in their entire perception of you. If you are female, this is even easier, because you can compliment someone's shoes or earrings; but don't do that if you are a man.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:36 PM on March 27, 2014

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