The Case for Talking Things Out With Your Mean Boss

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TAXI -  "Latka's Cookies" which aired on February 05, 1981. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) DANNY DEVITO; ANDY KAUFMAN
Photo: ABC Photo Archives

The popular conception of a hostile boss-employee relationship includes a lot of behind-the-back trash-talking coupled with fake smiles and small chat. Who wants to openly acknowledge that a work relationship is not going well? A new study from Michigan State researchers in the Academy of Management Journal argues otherwise, suggesting that your relationship with your boss might not matter as much as whether or not you and your boss both assess that relationship similarly. It might be to everyone’s benefit to actually sit down with your boss and bring whatever’s going on out into the open.

For the study, the researchers examined 280 boss-employee pairs in a wide variety of industries. They found, in short, that it was more important whether or not boss and employee matched on their assessment of the relationship than it was whether or not the relationship was good. So if the employee thought the relationship was good and the boss didn’t, or vice versa, that hindered motivation, but when boss and employee were on the same page — even when that page was an unfriendly one — performance was better.

Some people would say it’s better to fake it, but our results indicate that the opposite is true,” said Fadel Matta, a doctoral candidate in MUS’s Department of Management and the study’s lead author, in the press release. “At the end of the day, it’s better for everyone to know where they stand and how they feel about each other.”