“Dude, she totally ghosted me,” Ryan said.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“That’s when a gal just stops responding to your texts or calls. You have no idea why. You wonder ‘Is her phone dead? Is she dead?’ Then you get super insecure about yourself. ‘What did I say? What did I do? Why aren’t I good enough? I thought we had a real connection.’ Sheesh, dating in SF sucks.”
Are you being ghosted at work?
Does it seem like your boss doesn’t give you the time of day?
Do your emails go unanswered?
Does it seem like other people get better projects, more flexibility or more freedom?
If this sounds familiar, you might be in your bosses “out-group.” That’s sociologist speak for “She’s just not that into you.”
Don’t despair: here are three ways you can address the situation.
1. Look for past invitations you might have missed.
You might have missed their offer to get to know you better, provide feedback, or to have a better relationship. Sometimes these offers come early in the relationship, and if you miss them, your manager might not make them again. This is natural because if someone doesn’t open up, we’re not going to force the issue. But in the early days of working for your boss, we’re often nervous and overwhelmed, so it’s easy to miss these offers!
The good news is you can go back to your boss and revisit that discussion. You might say, “Remember when you asked me for feedback last year? I didn’t know what to say then, but I do want to have the kind of relationship where we can openly exchange feedback to improve. Could we revisit that topic?”
It’s never too late to accept a missed offer, but you have to take the initiative to open up that conversation again. This is an excellent way to reset your working relationship, and worth the risks.
2. Pursue… a bit.
The above is an example of continuing the relationship you want to have by using a past conversation as a starting point. But what if your boss appears to have no interest in you, and hasn’t opened up that discussion? Then it’s time for you to pursue them a bit. Nothing is stopping you from asking about their family, hobbies or goals. Or even scheduling a weekly 1:1 meeting with them!
Taking the initiative might sound risky, but many leaders mistakenly believe their team doesn’t want to have a trust relationship with them. They feel insecure in their leadership role or are afraid of being perceived as needy, weak or too touchy-feely. These fears cause them to be overly formal, keeping you at arm’s length.
Take the initiative, explain your desire to have a closer professional relationship, and explain why you want it. I bet you’ll be surprised at your boss’s reaction. You’ve taken a huge burden off their shoulders, and told them it’s okay to be human in front their team.
The first time one of my programmers did this with me, I remember feeling like I’d won the lottery! I couldn’t believe that they wanted to get to know me more, and were willing to share more about themselves too. That person quickly moved to my “in-group” because they took the initiative.
Realize that you might have to make multiple offers before they take you up on it, but don’t push too hard. I suggest offering three times, but if that doesn’t work, move on to the idea below.
3. Have a meta conversation about where you stand
Have you tried pursuing a bit, tried opening up about yourself, and you’re still not getting anywhere? It’s time for a meta discussion about where you stand.
You need to know where you stand, and I think you deserve to know what the problem is. You can use questions like these to get information about your relationship:
1. How would you rate the trust between us?
2. What’s really going on here?
3. How do you think we could work together better?
4. Is there anything between us we should talk about?
Questions like this highlight the relationship and can expose miscommunications and failed expectations you both may have. This is important to re-setting how your relationship moves forward.
It’s hard to be in the out-group, but you don’t have to stay there. Taking steps to know your boss better is risky, but ultimately necessary for your sanity and career path. If you have a boss that doesn’t want a deep, professional relationship with you, you might have to accept that “They just aren’t that into you.”
In that case, it is probably time to find a new boss.