How to handle an over-friendly boss

There are some things, which while we acknowledge but don’t want to think about, much less discuss. One that tops the list is that bosses are fallible human beings with social lives, sex lives, drinking problems and their neuroses. Unfortunately, some bosses don’t seem to be aware of this unwritten rule. Arrive at work on a Monday morning and they’ll greet you with a rundown of their weekend activities. They’ll call you into their office for a meeting, then find themselves pouring out the details of their marital/health problems. Some will want to know everything about you. They’re ‘pally’ bosses — the kind who aren’t content with managing your career, but want to be your best mate too.

According to organisational psychotherapist Joan Kingsley, there are many reasons why a boss might be too pally. “Some people are just being friendly in order to create a good team spirit, but take it too far. Others have flirtatious natures and always use the powers of seduction to win people over. Many pally bosses are extremely insecure people who desperately need to feel liked and approved of by their staff.” Then there are the people who simply aren’t suited to being managers. They have been promoted into a management position because they’re good at their job, but they don’t have any expertise in dealing with people. “Often it’s male managers who tend to be too pally. Women seem to be more aware of what boundaries mean and are able to read emotions better. If anything, female managers will go the other way and act too cold.”

Hearing about your boss’s personal life is like seeing your mother cry for the first time. It makes you feel vulnerable. You lose respect for someone who openly admits their failings. Why rush to meet a deadline when your friendly boss understands your excuses?

Worse still, when that boss has to make a decision — disciplining someone or making someone redundant — the lack of boundaries in your relationship makes that decision feel personal, rather than merely professional.

Pally behaviour can be misconstrued, leading to charges of sexual harassment. Conversely, appear over-friendly with your boss and you could find yourself accused of sleeping your way to the top. Too close a friendship with your boss could even harm your long-term career. If your pally boss leaves, your next boss might feel your allegiance is to his/her predecessor.

And beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing: occasionally a pally boss might actually be malicious, gathering information about you to be used at an opportune date, or sidelining you when they fear the knowledge you have about them might come out. Most pally bosses are unaware they have a problem, so the onus is on you to keep your relationship professional. Joan recommends you avoid certain topics (sex and your personal lives are no-nos) and intimate situations.

“Always have an agenda at a meeting, so don’t place yourself in a position of powerlessness. Don’t go out for lunch with your boss unless it is for an important business reason. If you feel uncomfortable about the way the conversation has progressed, change the subject. Use your emotional intelligence: if your gut instinct tells you something’s wrong, follow it.” — Agencies