Have you ever had the feeling your boss doesn't like you?
Conventional wisdom and your long-suffering friends will likely have told you to stop being paranoid. "Of course they don't hate you; you just need to win them round," your friends might say. But you could actually be onto something.
In fact, not only is it a common fear — it's usually grounded in reality, according to the president of IMD business school and author of "The set-up to fail syndrome: How good managers cause great people to fail."
Dr Jean-Francois Manzoni, who has studied the phenomenon for almost three decades, told CNBC Make It that managers he has surveyed have openly acknowledged that they behave differently toward their "perceived best and worst employees."
That may seem counter-intuitive — or even spiteful — but, of course, it makes sense. Bosses are likely to provide more opportunities to those they feel are capable, while limiting the responsibilities of those they consider weaker.
However, said Manzoni, therein lies the issue.
When a boss tailors their managerial style according to their employees' perceived abilities, it can result in what Manzoni describes as a "vicious cycle of labeling."
In other words, once your boss forms an opinion of you, it can be difficult to overturn it because they may limit your autonomy, causing your self-confidence to fall and, as a result, further weakening your performance.
That's true not only of bosses, but of employees too, said Manzoni. Once you, as an employee, build up a resistance to your boss, it can be difficult to shake that off, potentially leading to a more guarded and cold relationship.
Though that seems to suggest that both you and your boss should learn to cut each other some slack, Manzoni acknowledged that when it comes to unconscious biases, it's not always that simple. "What our work showed is the very strong importance and the self-fulfilling nature of negative labels," he noted.
So it's important to develop a way to break the cycle and reset your relationship before it spirals.
That can be achieved in three steps, said Manzoni.
First, sit down with your boss and explain that you feel your relationship is not as productive as you would like it to be. That will likely be very difficult, Manzoni acknowledged, but it's a necessary first step.
"You can role play it as much as you want, but 99 percent of the time you're going to come across as a whiner" if you don't establish that foundation first, he cautioned.
Next, make it clear that that distance is not intended on your part and you want to find a way to resolve it.
Finally, acknowledge that you may have failed to take on your boss' feedback in the past and you will work on that. "That's important," said Manzoni, "because as a boss there's nothing worse than feeling like you're repeating the same stuff over and over again."
"At that point, they should be nodding," Manzoni said, because "they will feel heard." Then, it's your opportunity as an employee to "call on the principle of reciprocity" and suggest some of the freedoms you would like to develop in your role.
Better still, outline at the outset of your relationship what your boss is looking for in a successful employee and make sure you're receptive to any coaching given. That way it will be clear that you are both striving for the same goal, said Manzoni.
"It's never just one side or the other — both parties play a role," he added. "It's about connecting with your boss' objectives, looking at your contribution to the dynamic, and finding how best to work together."