Effective Communication

How to ‘Manage Up’ Your Manager Without Them Realizing it

Here are a few tips to help you manage up—without your boss even realizing what you’re doing.

A poor relationship with your manager can be make-or-break for your time at your current job.

A recent Gallup poll found that half of people leave their jobs because of a bad manager.

But perhaps more troubling, the same poll found that managers were responsible for 70-percent of the various reasons that employees were—or were not—engaged in the workplace.

While leaving a job might be one, final answer, if you choose to stay despite a tricky relationship with you boss, poor performance can only stand to hurt you in the end. But you don’t have to resign yourself to leaving a job or feeling disenchanted with your work just because of one bad boss.

Here are a few tips to help you manage up—without your boss even realizing what you’re doing.

Keep Up the Good Work

The most important thing to do is make sure you don’t lose sight of priority number one: doing your job to the best of your ability, even if a bad boss has you discouraged or flustered.

Disengaging, getting burned out or making mistakes will only give your boss more ammunition to use against you. Consider excellence to be the first weapon in your arsenal. Even better, your success may reflect so well on your boss that he won’t be able to help but soften his approach with you and show some thanks. Remember: if you make your boss look good, you become that much more valuable to him.

Watch and Learn

Play detective for a few weeks.

Even if you’ve been working under the same manager for years, try to open your eyes and see her communication style and workplace goals as if for the first time—after all, you may have been so overwhelmed when you started your job that you never took the time to really examine the most important person you work with every day.

Is she disorganized and always short on time? Is she a micromanager with no patience for mistakes? What are her goals within the company and where are her weaknesses? Ask yourself these key questions and begin to paint a picture of where you can provide the most value to your boss.

If she’s always short on time, maybe you start each day by printing out a briefing memo for her. If she’s a micromanager, maybe you ask her a few key questions on each project that remind her she’s still in charge while relaying that you’re in control of the situation. If she has any major weaknesses, see those as your opportunities.

If your team is assigned to undertake a major social media campaign and you know that Twitter and Facebook are her blind spots, offer to carry the weight on this one. Of course, never suggest that you’re offering to take the initiative because you know she struggles with social media. Simply propose your value on the project and demonstrate your eagerness to get your hands dirty.

Don’t Fake it

Managing up is very different from kissing up.

Flattering your boss or attempting to curry favor is rarely perceived as genuine. Most people can tell when they’re being manipulated and even if you’re being very nice, disingenuous behavior can backfire.

Instead, stay polite, stay kind, stay professional and never say anything negative about your boss to anyone—even your most trusted workplace allies.

It’s Not All About You

After watching and learning about your boss a bit more, you should come to find that he has certain wants and needs on a daily basis.

You may soon realize that perhaps he grows easily frustrated by you because he has much bigger priorities than your deliverables and you tend to take up too much of his time. Understanding this tension can help you to eliminate it. Because he’s a level above you on the corporate food chain, he may be managing up to his own bosses with even higher expectations than he has for you. That could mean longer hours, high-stakes projects you’re not even aware of or other pressures that you did not take into account.

So rather than be miffed at an email he failed to reply to or a phone call in which he was snippy, remember that there may be more going on than you realize. Taking stock of this fact may even grow your empathy for your boss—or, at the very least, help you realize that your challenging relationship isn’t personal and it isn’t all about you.

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About the Author

R. Kress is an Emmy Award winning journalist whose reporting and writing has appeared in national media from NBC News to the International Herald Tribune. She has covered news from cities around the world including Jerusalem, Krakow, Amman and Mumbai.