7 Ways To Lose Your Boss' Trust

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By Alison Green

Your relationship with your boss is one of the biggest determining factors in how happy you'll be at work (tweet this thought), and how happy your employer will be with you. A key part of that relationship is how much your boss trusts you, which dictates everything from how much freedom your boss gives you in the course of your daily work to whether you're recommended for high-profile projects and promotions. But it doesn't take much to lose that trust and damage this key relationship significantly.

Here are seven ways you can lose your boss's trust and have a hard time gaining it back.

1. Not keeping commitments. The most fundamental expectation that your boss has of you is that you'll do what you say you'll do or what you're assigned. If you don't keep those commitments, your manager won't be able to trust that work is getting carried out in the way she expects – which is one of the most damaging things for your boss to believe about you. That's why it's key to be vigilant about doing what you say you'll do, by the time frame you've committed to do it in – and update people accordingly when a timeline needs to change. Chronically falling short on this front can lead to a relationship where your boss doesn't rely on anything you say.

2. Not keeping your boss in the loop when it counts. A good boss won't expect you to report on every detail of your work to her, but she will expect that you'll proactively inform her when it really matters, such as when a client is angry, a project is careening toward disaster, or a major decision needs to be made. If your boss isn't confident that you have the judgment to know when to loop her in, she's likely to feel that she needs to dig around to find out what's going on in your realm ... and neither of you will enjoy that. You're much better off showing her that you will keep her in the loop on your own.

3. Guessing when you don't know the answer. It might feel reasonable to make a best guess when you don't know an answer, but that means that some of the time, you'll supply the wrong information. And since your boss isn't asking you questions just to entertain herself, she'll then presumably make decisions or take actions based on faulty information. So if you're not sure about something, say so (and then say you'll find out the answer).

4. Not taking responsibility for your mistakes. Reasonable bosses know that employees are human and that mistakes will sometimes happen. But if you don't take responsibility when mistakes happen or you make excuses or become defensive, your boss will worry that you don't understand why the mistake happened in the first place – and that means she won't be able to trust you to avoid mistakes in the future.

5. Not being upfront about your biases. It's fine to have biases; we all have them. But if you hide your biases from your boss and she eventually uncovers them, you'll have damaged your credibility with her. On the other hand, if you openly own up to your biases, you can earn lasting credibility. For instance, if you're complaining about a co-worker's work quality and your manager has seen in the past that you don't particularly like this co-worker, you're going to be a lot more credible if you say something like, "I want to acknowledge that Jane and I have never clicked, and it's possible that it's coloring my view."

6. Not speaking up when you disagree on significant issues. Good managers want to work with straight-shooters who they can count on to provide honest input, especially when asked and when the input could steer the team away from a bad decision. If a project goes bad, you'll lose your manager's trust if she finds out that you always thought it was a bad idea but didn't bother speaking up about it because you didn't want to make waves. (This assumes, of course, that the manager has made it safe for people to disagree with her and openly voice dissent.)

7. Complaining about your boss behind her back, or otherwise being a toxic influence in the workplace. To be clear, a good boss wants to hear if you have complaints about her management, your work or other substantive issues. But that means talking with her directly, not complaining behind her back. If your boss hears that you've been chronically complaining to others, she'll understandably be concerned that you're undermining her – and more broadly, that you're spreading negativity around the workplace. And that's very hard to recover from.
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