Managing Up: How to Talk to Your Boss

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What is Managing Up and how can it boost your professional communication skills?

Working for someone who doesn’t communicate effectively can be tricky.  Maybe your boss is passive-aggressive.  Or she gives you feedback at 10pm the night before your presentation that you asked her to look at weeks ago.  Since it’s in your best interest to forge a healthy relationship with your boss, what to do?  Enter the concept of ‘Managing Up’.   There are a lot of great articles out there on strategy for Managing Up effectively.  Two faves: What Everyone Should Know About Managing Up by the Harvard Business Review and Mashable’s Managing Up 101: How and When to Take Initiative at Work.  For our purposes, let’s assume you’ve identified the issue, have a strategy for how you’re going to address it, but find yourself at a loss for how to navigate the actual exchange. That’s where Bespoken comes in!

Circumstances Matter.

Throughout our work we underscore the belief that we each have our own unique communication style.  And that it’s important to understand our communication style so we can leverage it to our advantage in different professional and personal settings.  The same holds true for your boss.  Turn the tables and spend some time observing her communication style.  Is she more comfortable in formal settings or informal?  Does she prefer in-person meetings over conference calls?  Is she a good listener or does she have trouble holding focus during conversation?  Once you’ve identified the characteristics of her communication style you can begin to formulate your approach.

Let’s say you want to suggest a monthly interdepartmental meeting to discuss new business because you’ve seen a few potential clients slip through the cracks recently. But you anticipate your boss will bristle at yet another standing obligation on her calendar.  Think back to when she’s at her most receptive.  In casual conversation when packing up at the end of the day?  Over breakfast before the obligations of the workday begin?  Speaking to her in the right circumstance is almost as important as the conversation itself.

Now It’s Time to Manage Up

Whitney Johnson’s advice in Managing Up Without Sucking Up is spot-on when she says, “Understand what job your boss was hired to do.”  Follow a two-step approach: make your boss feel you understand her perspective and then speak your idea without apology: “I know your goal is to increase our bottom line in the 3rd quarter which means bringing in 10 new clients by June.  I believe we can handily achieve this goal if we devote more time to speaking about new leads as an entire department. Wednesdays seem to be your lightest day.  Would you be open to meeting for 30 minutes the first Wednesday of the month as a department to speak about new business?”

Understanding how to manage up is a strategic business communication tool to master.  It can really work to your advantage when you find yourself in a challenging workplace dynamic. Have you managed up successfully or experienced a situation when it was called for?  We’d love to hear about it at: @bespokenNY.