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Managing Upwards – 9 Tips for a Better Relationship With Your Boss

If you’re reading this blog, you’ve got a manager you need to manage. Maybe their management style is having a negative impact on your working relationship. Are they a dinosaur, a dictator, or a dyed in the wool micromanager? Whatever the issue, managing upwards is a skill worth learning.

Are You Managing Upwards?

Do you feel like you work around your boss more than you work with them?

Do they fail to give you any autonomy and undermine you?

Do you feel like your relationship is more like a parent/child situation, even if their intentions aren’t bad?

Is it always their way or the highway?

Is their approach ‘hands-off’ which leaves you with no direction?

If you feel like you have to work around your boss and you have to direct yourself rather than get direction from them, you’re managing upwards.

Managing Your Boss: A Reality Check

Maybe you can see your boss is a bit of a dinosaur or a micromanager and you can’t see how things will change. The key is to not focus on changing their behaviour but to focus on changing yours. You can’t make them manage or behave in a certain way, but there are definitely ways that you can help and guide them so you improve your working relationship.

Why Manage Upwards?

The relationship you have with your boss is the most important working relationship you have. Don’t underestimate the important role it plays in helping you do your job well. Focusing on building a productive and collaborative relationship with your manager helps you both achieve the things that matter. It’s not just about getting on, it’s about taking the time and making the effort to understand each other and communicate better.

Whatever the situation with your manager, you can take steps to proactively manage your relationship. A better working relationship with your boss can mean less micromanaging, more trust, and less stress for you both.

9 Tips for Managing Your Boss

Think About What they Need

Many of the frustrations and complications in working relationships arise because our expectations differ. Instead of dreading every interaction with your boss, ask yourself:

What do they need here?

How do they want me to do the job?

How do they like to receive information?

Know this and you can better manage (and hope to meet) their expectations.

Communicate Clearly and Effectively

Good communication is a huge part of managing upward. Effective communication prevents things from getting lost in translation whereas poor or mismatched communication styles lead to misunderstandings and breakdowns in relationships.

Think about how you share information with your manager. Do you share information regularly, in a timely way, and in enough detail? Remember that good communication doesn’t just apply to formal communication but informal chats as well. Always try to keep your boss in the loop and if you need support, ask.

Another thing to think about is your manager’s communication style.

How do they prefer to communicate?

Are they a stickler for an email or do they express themselves better on the phone?

Do they prefer a solid one-hour meeting or is a quick 20-minute catch-up enough to give them everything they need to know?

Understanding their communication style and modifying yours can make your manager more effective and your relationship with them all together better.

Identify any Sticking Points

So you’ve thought about what they need and how to work with their communication style. But there’s still something getting in the way of you having a good relationship.

Managing your boss requires you to get reflective.

Think about their behaviour and personality, as well as how much your own behaviour impacts how you and your boss relate.

How well do other team members get on with your boss?

Are there any ways in which your boss makes you feel less valued than others or like you have to jump through more hoops?

Do you find it hard to express your opinions or discuss issues? You have to be honest about your contribution to how well (or not) you and your boss work together. Once you identify any sticking points or blockages, you’ve got something to work on.

Get to Know Your Manager’s Leadership Style

Managing upwards means understanding your boss on different levels. A huge factor that impacts the way your boss behaves and relates to you is their leadership style. Their leadership style can affect your relationship with them and shape your approach to managing them. Some things you might like to think about include;

Are they focused on details or do they prefer to know the bigger picture?

Do they tend to be proactive or reactive?

Do they embrace or resist change?

Is their approach more analytical or is it geared towards creativity and innovation?

Knowing how they manage and think can help you manage them, and your relationship.

Know Where They are Coming From

By this, I mean a few different things. If you understand what is important to your boss and what motivates them, it can really improve your relationship.

What are their main objectives and how can you help your boss achieve them?

What are their most important values and how can you align what you do with them?

Knowing where they come from in a more literal sense can help you understand them and relate to them better too. What is their work and educational background? What are their ambitions? Are they more about achieving goals for the business or are they more concerned with elevating their personal status?

Get Clarity

A lack of clarity about your level of responsibility can cause friction in your relationship with your manager.

Have a conversation around decisions you can make;

After talking to them;

On your own but reporting to them;

Completely on your own with no need to report.

This will help you feel more confident when making decisions and it also means you don’t need to take every little thing to your boss. Getting clarity around your role and responsibilities can also help reduce your manager’s micromanaging tendencies.

Be Assertive

Managing upwards is about realising that a fraught relationship with your boss won’t be healed overnight. It’s also about being assertive. Express your opinions and listen to and respect your manager’s point of view. The goal is to work together to find solutions to any issues that suit you both. This is a good starting point for improving your relationship and makes it easier to deal with any difficult situations in the future.

Demonstrate your Value

You can win your manager’s trust by demonstrating your skills and value to them, the team, and the business. One thing I did when I was a manager was implement something that improved the way we worked. I introduced using a whiteboard to communicate changes to staff. I showed my boss how it worked and they accepted it, and even went on to use it with their teams. Demonstrating how you and your skills and knowledge are of value can really help show your manager the way to improve how things are done.

Don’t Forget to Communicate What You Want

Yes, you’re trying to manage your boss and help them become more effective, but don’t forget about your own wants and needs. What do you want to learn? How do you want to develop? Think about what’s important to you then talk to your manager about them.

What About When Your Relationship is REALLY difficult?

What about situations where managing upward seems impossible? If there’s an ongoing situation that’s poisoning your working relationship with your boss, you need to have a conversation. Don’t be tempted to sweep it under the carpet or meet fire with fire and get angry. If you need to talk to your boss, it might help you to look at my tips on preparing for difficult conversations.

After the conversation, review the relationship and ask yourself if anything has improved and where you or they can do things differently to get a better outcome.

When Things Don’t Improve

This might seem like a negative note to end on, but what happens if things don’t improve? What if, despite your best efforts to manage your boss, it becomes apparent that things aren’t going to change?

 I would say that if your manager is making it impossible for you to do your job, and even worse, their behaviour is affecting your wellbeing, it may be time to look for another role. You’ve probably heard it said that people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers, and this can be very true.

Before you do anything, ask yourself;

Can I deliver what my manager needs?

Is there mutual respect?

Can I get help, support, or advice from another senior leader or mentor?

If, after communicating the issues to your manager and trying to work with them to find solutions, you feel like there’s no way forward or through, maybe it’s worth considering whether you should stay.

A good working relationship with your manager should be based on trust, respect, fairness, and open communication. Managing your relationship with them is an ongoing process whereby you are enabled to do your job well and support them. In return, they should meet you halfway and be prepared to do what it takes to achieve your mutual objectives.

Struggling to have a difficult conversation with your boss then why not email to book a 90-minute difficult conversations mentoring session and gain an approach that will give you confidence and the tools of a structure and plan.

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