10 assertive ways to react when your boss ignores you

Published on September 15, 2023
assertive ways to react when your boss ignores you

One of the more concerning realizations you could come to while at work is that your boss is ignoring you.

They don't respond to your emails and DMs. They don't have time to talk to you in person.

Why is your boss ignoring you all of a sudden?

Could it be that they are angry at you for some reason?

Do they no longer value you as a professional and an employee?

Or are they simply too busy to respond to you?

In this article, we will go over possible reasons why your boss is ignoring you, and I will give you examples of steps you can take to resolve this situation professionally based on my 10+ years of middle management experience in an international tech company.

Why does your boss ignore you?

First of all, don't assume that you or something you did is the reason your boss is ignoring you.

There could be all sorts of things going on with your boss. Here are several examples, grouped by categories.

1. Workload and priority challenges

One of the primary reasons your boss might be ignoring you is due to their workload and the challenges associated with prioritizing tasks.

They might be swamped with other pressing matters, causing them to forget or overlook certain communications due to the sheer volume of their responsibilities.

It's also possible that they delegate a significant portion of their tasks to others, which means they might not be directly handling your concerns.

Furthermore, if you're not on their immediate radar or priority list, it's easy for them to miss your messages or updates.

2. Communication styles and preferences

Differences in communication styles and preferences can also lead to feelings of being ignored.

There might be instances of miscommunication or misunderstanding between you and your boss.

Some bosses prefer to communicate through intermediaries or other channels rather than directly. They might also have a distinct style of communication that doesn't align with yours.

Additionally, technological glitches can sometimes result in missed messages, further exacerbating the feeling of being overlooked.

3. Management philosophy and skills

Your boss's management philosophy and skills play a crucial role in how they interact with their subordinates.

Some bosses firmly believe in granting autonomy, expecting their employees to work independently without much guidance.

They might be unaware of your need for more frequent communication or simply lack the necessary managerial skills to provide it.

In some cases, a boss might even believe that ignoring is an effective management technique.

They might also perceive you as a self-sufficient individual who doesn't require much guidance, leading to less frequent interactions.

4. Interpersonal dynamics and feedback

Interpersonal dynamics can significantly influence your relationship with your boss. If they have received negative feedback about you, they might be hesitant to communicate directly.

Additionally, some bosses tend to avoid conflicts, choosing to distance themselves rather than address issues head-on.

5. External stressors

External factors can also impact your boss's behavior.

If they are undergoing a particularly stressful period or facing challenging events in their personal or professional life, it might affect their communication and responsiveness.

Of course, it is entirely possible that your boss has a problem with you.

6. Personal issues and biases

Personal issues and biases can heavily influence a boss's behavior.

They might be overwhelmed with personal challenges, making it difficult for them to focus on work-related matters.

Biases or prejudices can also cloud their judgment, leading to unfair treatment. If they have personal issues with you that aren't related to work, it can further strain the relationship.

In some cases, a boss might even feel threatened or intimidated by an employee, especially if they perceive them as a potential rival or threat to their position.

What to do when your boss ignores you

What to do when your boss ignores you

Let's go over the steps that you can take when you realize that your boss is actively ignoring you.

But there is one important thing to remember – you are dealing with your own unique set of circumstances which means that the resolution to your situation might come from one or several of the steps proposed here.

1. Start with self-reflection and self-assessment

Here are a few questions that might point you in the right direction figuring out why your boss is ignoring you.

  • Have you had an argument with your boss?
  • Have you disappointed them in any way?
  • Have you embarrassed them in any way?
  • Have you been in a conflict with anybody else?
  • Have you done anything that your boss might see as highly negative?

It's best to reflect on your recent performance, behaviors, and attitudes. Could there be any reason, performance-related or interpersonal, that might lead your boss to distance themselves?

2. Document specific instances of being ignored

It would be wise of you to jot down specific instances when you felt ignored or overlooked. This will provide a clear record if you decide to escalate the issue later on.

For example, you can save specific emails that your boss didn't reply to or instances of being ghosted when you try to DM your boss.

3. Seek feedback from trusted coworkers

You can approach a trusted colleague and ask for their perspective on the matter. They might have noticed the same behavior or can offer insights into why your boss is ignoring you.

Or, they could provide reassurance if they haven’t observed any such conduct. In both cases, you will find yourself one step closer to a resolution.

4. Open a dialogue with your boss

Try to schedule a private meeting with your boss to confront them personally.

However, it's essential to approach this conversation with a non-confrontational and open-minded attitude.

Remember to use "I" statements to express your feelings and concerns. For instance, "I've noticed that there have been several times when I didn't receive feedback on my projects" rather than "You've been ignoring me."

After this, give your boss the chance to explain their behavior. Don't interrupt them. Simply listen patiently to what they have to say. Let's hope that the whole thing was a huge misunderstanding.

5. Don't get defensive

In case your boss points out that you are somehow at fault for something, then do your best to stay calm and collected. Certainly don't go on the defense.

Simply listen to the grievances of your boss and say something like “I understand where you are coming from. I am sorry for causing such disruptions. Do you have any recommendations on how I can improve?”

6. Ask your boss for feedback

During your meeting, seek feedback on your work performance as well.

If there is an issue, it's better to be aware of it and address it directly. Asking for feedback also demonstrates your commitment to professional growth and improvement.

7. Ask your boss about their communication preferences

Everyone has their own communication style. And perhaps your boss prefers a particular method or frequency of communication.

Clarify what works best for both of you so that you can avoid future instances of feeling ignored by your boss.

8. Escalate the issue through proper company channels

If direct communication doesn't resolve the issue or if the situation worsens, consider seeking mediation through HR or another neutral third party, such as another high-ranking executive at the company.

And don't feel embarrassed about this. After all, the job of Human Resources is to make sure that all employees of the company are treated fairly and that conflict resolution is handled in the most civil and professional manner.

9. Remain professional and respectful at all times

No matter the outcome, maintain your professionalism and productive workflow.

You should continue to deliver quality work, communicate effectively, and avoid gossiping or discussing the situation with other colleagues unnecessarily.

10. Consider leaving this toxic work environment

If all efforts fail and you continue to feel marginalized and ignored by your boss, it may be worth considering if this job or company is the right fit for you.

After all, what kind of boss goes through such efforts to ignore one of their subordinates? Especially if this is some kind of a grudge or a personal vendetta against you.

Having a lousy or vindictive boss is a sure sign of a toxic work environment. And we have a full guide that you might find helpful if you decide to leave your toxic workplace.

What to do when your boss ignores your emails

If your boss ignores your emails, then you should feel comfortable sending them a direct message, be it through the platform that you use at work, or a text message to their phone.

Of course, in case you see them every day at the office, you can try to approach them personally and ask them when they give you some of their attention and time.

Part of being a responsible professional is to take adequate action when your direct manager isn't there to provide guidance.

In this case, your boss, direct manager, or supervisor is the one who is being problematic.

So it is in your hands to find the proper resolution of this issue.

Should you ignore them back?

No matter why your boss is ignoring you, you shouldn't ignore them back. This would be highly immature and unprofessional of you.

After all, part of being a reliable and dedicated professional is to put personal feuds and feelings aside in the name of collaboration and productivity.

My experience with my boss ignoring me

Let me tell you about the time my boss was actively ignoring me.

A few years ago, I was managing a small team of senior professionals at our company.

At the time, we had two new recruits – a couple of juniors. They were really talented, hard-working, and eager to impress everyone at the company.

Especially because they knew that their first evaluation would be at the 6-month mark.

The time came and I was preparing their evaluations which were overall very positive.

I was very happy with their performance and I definitely wanted to keep these young talented professionals in the company. So naturally I wanted to raise their salaries – something they were expecting as well.

But for this purpose, I had to go through my boss who at the time was the Chief Commercial Officer of the company.

Working with this person for quite some time, I knew that the best way to approach them for a matter like this was a concise straightforward email.

So I crafted a short email explaining the situation and sent it to them.

However, I didn't get a reply from them by the end of the work week, even though they were in the office.

When Monday came around, I “bumped” the email with a polite reminder. But I didn't get a response that week as well.

Okay, I thought, perhaps our boss was quite busy and they couldn't be bothered right now.

So I waited for one more week. Still, no reply. So I had to resort to direct messaging.

I texted my boss on Skype but they totally ghosted me for another week.

For a whole month, my boss ignored all my emails and DMs. Gosh, they were really busy, I guess.

Even though I could see them having casual conversations around the office with other employees of the company and taking extended lunch breaks.

I had no other choice but to try to speak to them in person. Luckily, I caught them making a coffee in one of our break rooms at the office.

I remember saying something like “Hey, how are you, I’ve been trying to reach you for a few weeks. Got a moment?”

And they said, “Yes, I know, sorry, I’ve been very busy, I’ll get back to you soon.”

Unfortunately, they didn't get back to me at all. So after a couple of weeks, I started to chase them again. Still, they continued to ignore my emails and DMs.

At this point, it was getting ridiculous. But the worst part was the fact that I couldn't proceed with the evaluations of the two juniors.

And they were getting frustrated. Often they would ask me what was going on. I would explain to them that our boss was quite busy so they weren't able to approve the salary raises.

Eventually, our boss did get back to me and approved the salary raises. However, the junior evaluations were delayed by 3 months.

And this seriously strained our professional relationship. The juniors were promoted to seniors but had totally lost any respect for the company.

Eventually, they resigned after a few more months.

Frequently asked questions

Is it a sign of poor performance if my boss ignores me?

Not necessarily. While it could be related to performance, it might also be due to other reasons unrelated to your work.

Should I involve HR if my boss consistently ignores me?

If you've tried addressing the issue directly and see no improvement, it might be time to involve HR for mediation.

How can I stay motivated when I feel overlooked at work?

Focus on your tasks, seek feedback from peers, and consider joining professional groups or workshops to enhance your skills.

What are some signs that it might be workplace bullying?

Consistent exclusion from meetings, being the target of rumors, or receiving unfair treatment compared to peers can be signs of bullying.

Written by:
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co-founder / office worker
Alex has been an office worker for more than 10 years. He is dedicated to helping other office workers to achieve the perfect life-work balance through well-being, effective communication, and building productive habits.

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