Managing up is an important way to cultivate relationships that allow you to be more effective at work. If you think about a frustrating relationship you have in your working life, are you focused on making it more effective, or on being liked? In the last segment we looked at the things that can get in the way of being able to build a healthy relationship with our boss, which were also all things we control. Our judgment, bias, expectations and compassion. Strong relationships are often thought to be built on likeability, but in fact they are built on mutual respect and trust (and if you happen to like each other, that is a bonus). So, making it about the work you’re both invested in, and the organization you both support, will help you to build something healthy in this reporting relationship.
Trust is present when there is mutual respect. Here again, it may be tempting to think that if someone likes you then there is mutual respect. Usually, but did you know you can cultivate mutual respect without actually liking someone? When you make it about the work, and what you share through the act of providing your expertise, skills and abilities (and less about whether or not you have anything personally in common with this individual), there will be enough common ground to build something together through your work. A professional and personal connection is important to build over time, but when that isn’t easily present, start with the work and build from there.
You may not like the way your boss provides feedback, or he/she may have an interpersonal style that sets your teeth on edge. Mutual respect is about having the difficult conversations necessary to cut through the ways of working that stand between you and this other person. You can only control yourself, but that also means you have to consider how to speak to your boss about any misunderstandings or ways that aren’t working. You will be able to do this with more success if you can start with respecting your boss. If respect isn’t present, then you are unlikely to find the approach, or the words, to maintain, or further, your working relationship together. Bosses have a very tough job; often there is a lot of pressure, and office politics you as an employee can’t/shouldn’t see. Ever work for a boss who was so transparent with you that it was demoralizing? Yup, a good boss will balance what employees see and experience in their work with being healthily transparent, but that doesn’t always mean he/she will be perfect.
Be compassionate with your boss, and in so doing, be willing to have a non-judgmental conversation with her/him about what is, and is not, working in your relationship. Remember, it’s about ensuring you have what you need to be more effective at work, so think about what you would like to say with that frame in mind. It can make the difference between telling your boss he/she is being too hard on you, and letting your boss know what is helpful to include in her/his feedback to you to get the results you both want. One is about your emotions (and immediately makes things personal), the other is about being as effective as possible in the work (and comes from a position of mutual respect).
“…understand what your boss’s agenda is, helping them reach their key goals is an outstanding way to get their attention in a very positive way. Solutions, not problems.” – Karl Moore, McGill University Professor