4 Tips to Navigating a Professional Relationship with Your Boss

4 Tips to Navigating a Professional Relationship with Your Boss
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What you need to know

Your boss has a job to do, and being your friend is not part of it.

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The summer is always a booming season for workplace turnover in Taiwan. New graduates are searching for jobs, while those already at work are scanning the employment landscape for new opportunities.

Here, I want to share a story from an HR supervisor at a client’s company, who recounts interviewing a new applicant who had trouble with his boss in his previous company. Before we begin, I want to remind everyone to be entirely practical and rigorous while interacting with your boss – do not let personal feelings impact the relationship between your and your boss, or you will fall into an endless black hole!

Without further ado, let’s jump into the story:


Ben came to my client’s company and applied for a position as a supervisor of the management information systems (MIS) department. Looking at his educational background and work experience, he was an outstanding applicant.

However, his previous company caught my attention. He had worked in a senior role at his last company, earning a higher salary than he would at my client’s company. As he was applying for an inferior position, I couldn’t help but ask him about this during the interview.

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‘So tell me a bit more about your last job…’

It turned out that Ben had left his previous company “in anger” because he thought his boss “betrayed” him. At first, his boss gave him considerable authority to carry out a project, but it did not turn out as well as expected. His boss did not listen to his explanation and wanted to punish him instead. Ben felt terrible, so he decided to quit.

1. Your boss is a businessperson

What type of person is a boss? He or she is nothing but a businessperson. Just as you spend money at a restaurant, every penny and every amount of effort they put in must pay off. So when I hear employees say their bosses treat them like siblings, I feel anxious for them.

In the case of Ben, he made a mistake by thinking his boss would unconditionally support him, rather than taking the role of a businessman. This ideal does not correspond with the realities of the workplace, in which everyone has their own obligation to reach a certain level of performance. Ben should have seen his boss as a businessman – nothing more, nothing less.

2. Bosses are investing in you, so they expect ROI

Every decision a boss makes is a business decision. The authorization of a boss is, in effect, a type of investment. By trusting in an employee’s ability to carry out a project or task, a boss is investing in that employee’s performance.

Investment is all about Return on Investment (ROI). If you, the employee, do not reach a targeted goal, it will be a failure in terms of results – you have not delivered the optimal ROI. It is best to leave it at that – remember, in this calculus, there is no room for personal feelings. Your boss may not have the flexibility to consider personal relationships, no matter how much your boss likes you.

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3. Your boss is not your friend

You must keep a safe distance from your boss in the workplace. Bosses are human, and also have emotions and personal preferences. As employees, we should maintain a working relationship with them, and that’s it.

I often see people hang around with their bosses outside of work. This is not a good idea because, with time, you will understandably mix your working and personal relationships. You will then develop personal expectations of your boss that may simply be out of sync with the realities of the workplace.

Take Ben for example: He made a mistake in how he thought about his boss. In the working relationship, Ben underperformed on a project – it happens, you accept it and move on. But in the personal relationship, Ben felt betrayed and decided his position was untenable.

So do remember to keep professional and personal feelings separate. The boss is not, and never will be, your friend.

4. The support of your boss depends on your profitability

Now that I am finished talking about the anatomy of workplace relationships, the question may arise: Will bosses be supportive of their subordinates?

Bosses are human. They have personal preferences. They certainly do offer support in many cases. This support, however, has a condition: profit. Bosses are under pressure to produce profits in the long run; this is a practical goal with no emotional entanglement involved.

If you understand this, receiving support is quite simple. It is important to avoid connecting that support (or lack of support) with your personal feelings.

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Credit: Depositphotos
Sure, your boss will support you... as long as you’re making the company money.

Although Ben had exceptional abilities and qualifications, I ended up persuading my client not to employ him. Despite being highly capable, an employee who cannot distinguish between work and personal relationships is potentially unreliable in the workplace. In the worst case, he could leverage a personal relationship to blackmail his new boss and have a negative influence on other employees at the company.

I shared this story to remind employees that one does not go to work to make friends, and a safe distance must be kept from your boss. You must know where to draw the line between professional and personal relationships – or you may end up just like Ben.

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The News Lens has been authorized to publish this article. The original was published on “The World of Ice and Fire.” It first appeared on the Chinese-language Taiwan edition of The News Lens; this version can be found here.

Translator: Lin Ying-jen

Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

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