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I'm in a bizarre situation: My boss is too friendly.

Not to be misunderstood: I like it when people are friendly on the job. It makes life a lot easier. But the problem I have is that because my boss if too friendly with me, it makes it extremely hard for me to tell him his management mistakes, come performance review time. He would ask to feedback on his management style, but it's hard to me to come up with something to say in a manner that does not wreck the relationship that we have.

Ever so often, we would go out for lunch together and talk about private things. Also, we would come to my desk and interrupt my work to talk about private things. I know it sounds bizarre, but I'd actually like him to check in more often on my work than my or his private matters. In fact, we talk more about private matters than work, not to speak about career advancement, which he doesn't take part in at all, I've got to do all that by myself (which I find frustrating as I can't move anywhere without his input or help). Also, his constant interruptions affect my concentration.

My question would be if anyone had some advise on how to tactfully let my boss know that I'd like to close in more on work-related matters rather than private related matters.

I seem to suck at this because I once tried to disengage from his chattiness for a bit, and he didn't seem to take it well, being overly and artificially strict on work after that ("Have you done this yet?" "How is that tracking?"), while as before, he didn't care (my objectives hardly translate into his, so why would he?).

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    Could this be romantically motivated? – simbabque Oct 29 '16 at 10:15
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    @simbabque I seriously haven't thought of that, given that we're both male and married (not to each other). However, nothing can be ruled out in these times and days... – O'Brien Oct 29 '16 at 10:47
  • Perhaps he just needs a friend, no sinister back thought. Unfortunately, for you and your boss, a boss-underling relationship is not suitable for a real friendship, for various reasons. It is possible to maintain an almost-friendship as long as the boundaries of competence and decision-power are respected, but this requires a lot of skill. What methods did you use to get feedback on your work? – Captain Emacs Mar 6 '18 at 12:00
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This is the new style in which authority presents itself to make it harder to oppose it.

Consider this situation: you don't want to visit your grandma, because you want to do something else, but your father wants to convince you to do it. A "classic", authoritarian father would say that you have to do it no matter if you want it or not, and he's not giving you a choice. You might have to do it, but at least it is easy to be against this, and be angry at your father. A "post-modern" father would instead say that you don't really have to do this, only if you want to, but your grandma loves you, and he'll be sad if you don't go. Now this is paradoxically a much stronger command, since now not only do you have to go, but you are also forced to like it, and it's not easy to rebel against this without looking like an ungrateful son.

For this reason modern managers like to befriend their employees and pretend they're all pals, all in it together, so it is harder for you to criticize them, and think negatively of them and their decisions. You have to realize this is just a guise in which power presents itself to make its grip even harder to shake off, since now you are still bound by the formal hierarchy of power (you are still an employee who has to follow orders), and additionally you are manipulated into thinking about it as if you were doing favours for a friend.

This is also why modern politicians like Obama like showing their "informal" side, taking photos while playing with their kids, doing everyday things, and so on. All to seem "human" and closer to the everyman such as yourself, so you are tricked into perceiving their authority without the usual distance separating the ruler and his subjects, so that its grip is ever stronger.

You have to remind yourself that no matter how friendly your manager is, he is not your friend, and will never be, unless the hierarchy of power is no longer the defining quality of your relationship.

  • That's a very good point that you're making here. In fact, I thought of this possibility, but I dismissed it straight away. If that's what it is, then he is playing his part very sinister. Now I need to shape up on getting that distance between him and me that is supposed to be there in order to have a proper boss-minion relationship where each part does his job. So far, he doesn't do his, and I have a hard time telling him. – O'Brien Oct 29 '16 at 10:49
  • Getting you personally involved, as opposed to purely professionally, makes you care more about work, as you're aiming not to fail a "friend". If there are social engineering classes in MBA schools that's one of the most important subjects they probably teach there. – bob glausl Oct 29 '16 at 10:54
  • An MBA course might be too time costly, but I'll see what other options I have to social-engineer this issue. – O'Brien Oct 29 '16 at 13:34
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    @O'Brien it's also possible your manager doesn't know how to manage properly and it isn't motivated by something sinister. Not that that changes how you should proceed. Hanlon's razor and all. – Raystafarian Oct 29 '16 at 14:29
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    This answer assumes that every bit of kindness is done out of selfishness. While I know a lot of people that are like that I wouldn't assume everyone is an asshole in disguise. Buisness is hard and when the time comes everyone is on his own, but that doesn't mean his boss can't be whole heartedly a good guy or that there is any strategy behind it. – HopefullyHelpful Oct 29 '16 at 18:25

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