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10 Ways to Impress Your Boss Without Being Obvious

Girl in coat with bag on background of city buildings
Photograph by Twenty20

There’s something inherently icky about the notion of trying to impress someone—especially a boss or higher-up. Are you trying to be someone you’re not? Are you sucking up? Is this all a sham?

The thing is, especially in the workplace, there’s nothing more effective at impressing others than being the best YOU you can be. That’s why they hired you, right? To be truly impressive, in a non-awkward way, try the following tips.

1. Find one thing to learn

For Jason Stoikoff, an architect and project manager from Pasadena, California, it’s about figuring out the one lesson you really want to learn from your boss. “Find something—anything—that you can learn, big or small, from your boss,” he says. “Whether you love or hate them, try to find one thing that you think can actually benefit you. Then tell them what it is. This will be flattering to them and helpful to you. It's a compliment that combines your own self-interest with a certain level of appreciation and respect for them. It is genuine and not ingratiating. Win-win for both parties!”

2. Be early

In some workplaces, it’s cool to stroll in at half past 10, and in others, it’s butts-in-seats at 8 a.m. sharp—which is to say, adjust expectations for your particular work culture. But it’s almost always a good mark to be there before your boss. On the practical side, it lets you dig into email and get in front of an emergency before there’s anyone looking over your shoulder. And, on the side of optics, it just works. Set that alarm.

3. Be present

We’ve all gotten sucked into email (or Instagram!) in the middle of a meeting, only to be called out as inattentive. What? Oh, yes, I think what Jane was just saying is right on point. In a word (or two): Just don’t. When you’re at work, be at work.

4. Be vulnerable

“Not that I do this intentionally,” says Shannon Peavey, the director of product for a Silicon Valley startup, “but I find that the more you confide in them, the more they confide in you.” It’s equally effective with higher-ups and subordinates. “Goes both ways!”

5. Show that you’re listening

Most people—and many bosses, especially—just want to feel supported and heard. One way to do that is to use phrases they’ve said back to them, or to quote them, using their words. Don’t be smarmy, obviously.

6. Tell the truth

Good or bad, being honest about what’s really going on at work will, in most cases, make you trustworthy. Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news, but when the bad news is valuable information that can help the business, it takes a pretty poor manager to want to shoot the messenger.

7. Be open to feedback

Paula Gonzalez, a school counselor in California's Bay Area, believes that accepting and acting on feedback is the key. “Being open to feedback—even when it’s hard to hear—has been super important for me to continue to collaborate and develop a healthy working relationship,” she says.

8. Use your EQ

Some of the best advice is to simply follow the golden rule: Be kind above all else, and treat your coworkers as real people. “In all sincerity,” says Lesley Ling, who works in human resources, “empathy and compassion are phenomenal in both directions, too.”

9. Find a way to connect

This isn’t about re-inventing yourself to better fit your boss’s worldview. It’s about finding common ground, even outside of the workplace. “The strategic part of it, I guess, is to find the people who will have the biggest influence on you and find a way to connect with them. And hopefully that doesn't mean becoming a gym rat at Equinox,” says Ryan Modjeski, a director of digital product from Echo Park, California.

10. Just do it

Sometimes the answer is right there in front of you. “As a boss and a subordinate,” says Ling, “the best way to impress and show appreciation is to use your brain and do your job.”

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