Asked&Answered: Managing Up

Welcome to the very first installment of Asked&Answered, our monthly column in which Ellen Mehling, METRO's Job Bank Manager and Career Consultant, tackles reader questions on job hunting and career development. If you'd like to submit a question, please visit our submission form

What is your advice for “managing up:” building a good relationship with one's superior(s) so that both parties are able and willing to give feedback that will ultimately benefit the organization?

The keys to "managing up" are effective communication, service orientation, flexibility, and trust. Your best course of action is to adapt to your supervisor's preferences as much as possible without compromising your integrity or well-being.

askedanswered1.jpgTry to understand your supervisor's position, point of view, and expectations, and what s/he values professionally. Keep in mind that s/he has pressures, mandates, and deadlines that are outside of your knowledge. Be sure to consider how receptive your boss is to new ideas, suggestions, and disagreements.

If you are new to the job, proceed with caution and take time get to know the boss: is s/he someone with whom you can speak your mind? Are things said "off the record" really "off the record?" Or is this someone who reacts negatively to anyone who questions or disagrees?

As you begin to understand the way your manager ticks, always be on the lookout for additional ways you can contribute. In doing this, you can begin to anticipate and avoid problems, and reduce headaches for your boss whenever you can. Be reliable and keep him/her informed as necessary and at preferred intervals. It can be helpful to recap information and instructions via e-mail after a meeting or conversation in which verbal plans are made. If anything is unclear, ask questions. These things build trust, lessen misunderstandings, and reinforce your value as an employee.

When interacting in person, react calmly and professionally to potentially stressful news (a big change, for example, or negative feedback). Listen and respond without resistance or defensiveness. Take notes if you can. Pick your battles, and focus on collaborative solutions rather than "winning" or getting your way. If your boss comes to see you as an adversary rather than an ally, there will be trouble ahead. Say your piece and then let it go.

Unfortunately, despite your best efforts, sometimes a good working relationship just cannot be established. This could be due to lack of trust or respect, or strong differences of style and preference (for example, if you really like working independently and your boss supervises very closely). A lack of rapport or a clash of preferences may not be anyone's fault, but just a bad match.

Your goal here should not be to manipulate the boss in order to gain favor (that would be "kissing up" rather than "managing up") or to control your boss or the relationship – those tactics will likely backfire if you try them and don't work in the long run anyway. Don't lose sight of who is in charge, or you may find yourself in hot water in a hurry. Do your job well, contribute above and beyond whenever possible, and make sure that your actions match your boss’s idea of your role in the organization.