When Your Boss Is Shutting You Out

What to do when your boss is shutting you out

Harvest Business Review wrote a summary of an article posted on the harvardbiz website here. This summary was adapted from “What to Do If You Think Your Boss Is Shutting You Out," (by Liz Kislik) and suggested that when your boss is shutting you out, you should:

  1. firstly verify whether your perception of what is happening is accurate by asking your colleagues if they are experiencing something similar with the Boss. The summary of the article explains that if your colleagues are not sharing your experience and your perception is correct, you may be missing out on being told some crucial information.
  2. Next, you should think about what you might have done wrong.
  3. And then think about how you could repair or rebuild the relationship.

Only then does the summary suggest that you may have to initiate a conversation with the Boss during which you should try to show that you value your Boss and want to se things right by taking any feedback to heart.

 My reflection:

  1. When an employee refers to their supervisor or manager as ‘the boss’ or ‘my boss’ this may provide insight as to how they view the role of their manager, how they view the delivery of that role by the manager and/or their own role in the workplace relationship or hierarchy.  Words are powerful. Does this mean the employee believes their manager bosses them around? Is the boss a bossy manager? Does the employee believe they can approach and negotiate with their manager or is a manager someone you take orders from and dare not question?
  2. Discussing your perception with other colleagues is not always a constructive activity. Will it make you feel any better if no one else agrees with your perception that you are being shut out by the boss? Will it make you feel any better if you learn that no one else but you feels they are being shut out by their boss? What if the others agree the boss is displaying the same behaviours towards them as is being shown to you and they are not phased by it at all but you are? Will your conversation descend into judgement and gossip? Will your discussions appear to others like you are trying to undermine your boss? Will others think you are ‘a bit crazy’ for feeling this way? Would you believe what others say to you in an attempt to try to explain the boss’s apparent behaviour? The bottom line….what have you achieved from these type of discussions besides being more confused, more hurt, more entrenched in your idea of feeling victimized and being no closer to a solution?
  3. What have I done wrong? What could I have done wrong? I tried so hard to get it right! There is no way that I would deliberately set out to do something wrong and upset my boss – but that’s what they think I have done! What do I do? Will they ever trust me again? Perhaps I should just lay low until I can work it out? What if they don’t like me? I can never change that! I am a good person – if they can’t see that – stuff them! Should I meet more often with them? Should I stay out of their way and meet less often? Should I offer to help them more? Should I smile more? Should I work longer hours? Should I send more email updates – oh no – that might annoy them. I know, if I were the boss, I would prefer…XYZ... So that’s what I can do. Can you see yourself going down a rabbit hole with no string attached to your waist to follow back towards daylight and clear, objective, rational thought?
  4. Finally, after hours, days, weeks of internal dialogue and countless discussions with my colleagues, family and friends and feeling confused about their varying views and the views that conflict with mine, their initial concern and attention and now their lack of empathy (really everyone only cares about themselves) and them starting to avoid me and not asking how I am… I may just initiate a discussion with my boss to show I value them, their role and any feedback they might offer.
  5. Wait – step back 10 paces. Who is best placed to know the perspective of the boss on this situation? The Boss right? Yet according to this summary, they are the last person we should ask. Why would you spend all that time and energy in trying to understand the Boss’s perspective from everyone else? Do any of those people actually know the Boss well enough to know exactly (and I mean specifically) what the Boss has been thinking and why they have been acting in a particular way? Or do we just like to think we are mind readers – like it carries some sort of title or position of merit to be respected and held in awe by others? Why, if you have a concern about the Boss’s attitude or actions would you raise your concern with someone other than the Boss? Do not our organisational complaint handling policies recommend, in fact direct, us to raise any issues or concerns in the first instance with the person directly involved in the matter?  Why would you think that every organisation I have worked with has this step in their policy – I can tell you – because it is best practice – it works! Yet for most of the organisations I work with, employees still choose to avoid this step. It is what we would recommend that our colleague does. But when it comes to oneself, all of a sudden that important practice doesn’t quite apply to our own situation.
  6. Let me share with you a secret – you don’t have to value the Boss as a person. You are expected to respect the role of a manager and respond appropriately to all reasonable directions requested of you by your manager. You are expected to respectfully seek and consider all feedback provided to you. What sort of dilemma are you now facing when, all of this time you thought you were demonstrating that you value the Boss but recently they have been shutting you out and now, in the confines of one short meeting, you have to demonstrate to the Boss that you value them (when you thought you had been doing that over an extended period of time and building the trust bank and you have failed. No pressure right!) In addition, you have to convince the Boss that you value them, and you value their feedback so much and that it is so important to you - but not quite enough to have invited them into the resolution process more promptly and not quite enough that you actually sought that highly valuable feedback at an earlier point in time. And on top of that, you are expected to be devoid of all emotion as you ‘take all feedback to heart’.
  7. If you have, for a past situation, followed similar steps to that recommended – did you find by the time you got to a 1-1 meeting with your Boss, no matter how sincerely they tried to discuss their perspective with you, you didn’t quite believe them? Did you find that you were being distracted by their body language, their inaccurate choice of language, your comparison between what they are saying now and how you believe they acted in that past moment? Did they manage to convince you? Did you feel totally relaxed and ‘back in the good books’? Did the boss seem perplexed or concerned that you didn’t approach them at an earlier point in time? Did they appear somewhat, if only sightly, aggrieved or concerned that you had kept them out of the resolution process up to this point? Do you believe you did a good acting job to convince them that there has been no damage to the relationship and that you support them 100%?


I suppose if you believe that your choice of action pathway did not damage your relationship with your boss and that it was the most effective pathway to minimise any negative impact on your mental health and well being – then well done.

 If you have an hesitancy in being fully confident in the success of your choices along the resolution pathway then maybe there is an opportunity to reflect on this and discuss with your Boss, HR or EAP other options which may have been more beneficial for you and the many others which you chose to involve in YOUR own matter of concern.

 How we choose to perceive and interpret situations reflects directly on our own ability to think rationally. How we choose to raise and address concerns reflects directly and so obviously on our own character – our resilience and integrity, our perspective on respect and how we value others and self. 

 Don’t blame your display of character on the culture of the team, the department or the organisation. You are a direct reflection of your character. You are part of the culture and how you choose to respond to the character of others around you and the culture within the geographical space that you occupy – is your choice. And your choice of action or non action (which is an action) in turn displays your character and contributes to the culture! 

 What is the character you wish to display? What is the character you would like others to come to know you for?

If you would like some assistance at an individual, team or departmental level, then consider our 1-1 Executive Coaching Program and offer an experiential Leadership development program to the team, department or whole of the organisation.

 And one last thing – consider not referring to your manager as the Boss.

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About the Author

Catherine Gillespie brings a wealth of skill to her clients. With particular expertise in teaching communication and workplace conflict resolution skills, Catherine has made a marked difference to the organisations she has worked with. She empowers teams and managers to adopt constructive styles that support harmony, productivity and progress in the workplace.