Published: 24/02/2005, Volume II5, No. 5944 Page 37

I am looking for a new job, but my relationship with my boss is so poor that I am not confident she will give me a good reference. I have worked under this person for five years. Our working relationship was good for the first couple of years, but has deteriorated.

I would say this is largely personalitybased rather than work-related, but the effect is that she seems to have little confidence in my abilities beyond a fairly basic level.

If I could repair the damage it would help, but I do not know where to start.

Jenny Rogers says

I am not a great believer in personality clashes - despite, or maybe because of, my book on the subject of personality.

I have yet to see an alleged personality clash which was not actually a polite fiction to disguise deep-rooted differences over performance or values.

Your e-mail has the slightly puzzled or despairing tone of someone resigned to, and with no control over, their fate. But you are one half of the relationship.

What is intriguing is that the relationship worked well for two years. In that time, what was different?

Specifically, what were you doing then that was making the relationship successful?

It is urgent that you talk to your boss.

Staying stuck in the undermining misery of basic-level work does nothing for your motivation or prospects. Tell her you want to know how she feels and are prepared to hear things you will not find comfortable.

This will take courage. It will take even more courage to do the next bit: to consider if there is any truth in what she says. Remember feedback is only feedback; It is not an instruction to change, but it does tell you how others see you. When this is seriously adrift with how you see yourself, that is a problem.

Tell your boss that you want to address both the work and the relationship issues.

Ask her what she would like to see happen. Tell her you are prepared to change and then ask for whatever active support you need from her. Set up another meeting to review progress.

Assuming this goes well, you will then have a much better story to tell on your CV and will also feel a great deal more confident about finding another job.

Bryan Carpenter says

Given that you said the problem related mainly to 'personality', I would guess that it could take some time to repair the damage - probably too long to comply with your career aspirations.

Attitudes are notoriously difficult to change.

Employers are simply looking for an honest, objective assessment of an individual's abilities and it can be advantageous at times if it is not from the immediate 'boss'.

So you could get your reference from someone else who is well placed to comment on your achievements.

Jan Sobieraj says

Your first port of call should be your peers. Do they have the same problems? If they do, then it is likely your manager is more the problem and you will have to decide if constructively confronting the issue will make it worse. If they do not, more soulsearching might be needed.

Do you have staff reporting to you, or others you work closely with? Ask them what they really think about your competence. If you have good working relationships with colleagues ask them to give you honest opinions - with examples.

Once You have decided It is worth discussing this with your boss, focus on evidence around delivery and outputs, not personalities. Most managers can cope with a range of personalities.

Share examples of where you think you achieve at or beyond the competence required, and listen to your manager's perspective. Hopefully, you will agree a common view. At worst you will know exactly what they think. This means you can focus on the perceived weak areas and prove your worth.

And if this doesn't work? You could either try to get positive references from your manager's boss and someone else at a higher level in the organisation or, if there is simply no way your manager will support a promotion and you cannot get help elsewhere with your references, you might want to think about a sideways move.

Our panel

Bryan Carpenter is HR director of Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals trust.

Kate Gordon is an independent nurse consultant and qualified life coach.

Sally Gorham is chief executive of Waltham Forest PCT.

Hazel Henderson is physical fitness co-ordinator for Wandsworth PCT.

Neil Johnson is director of education and training at NHSU.

Jenny Rogers is an executive coach and director of Management Futures.

Jan Sobieraj is chief executive of Barnsley Hospital foundation trust.

Do you have issues - about your career, working life or general well-being - that you need some expert advice on?

E-mail in confidence to and you could receive a free copy of our popular toolkit Leadership at Every Level (retail price£95).