Establishing mutual respect, and from there, nurturing trust, requires a commitment to doing things that may not feel comfortable, and may need a lot of emotional energy to carry through. However, the outcomes include being able to incrementally, build trust and mutual respect with your boss so that when the time comes, you can present an out-of-the-box idea, or a contrasting point of view, and be heard. This is where all your hard work pays off.
Influence. A simple word that is also the holy grail of healthy working relationships everywhere. The ability to get others to think in new and different ways, consider innovative options, or just to listen to you, is not only highly productive for your work, it supports well-being. There is an “entrance condition” for influence, and that is trust. You may not like someone personally, but that doesn’t exclude you from being able to trust him/her in the work they do. Ever worked with someone whose communication style rubbed you the wrong way, but whom you also knew would absolutely hit their deadline? Trust doesn’t always come dressed in friendship, or even likeability. It comes from being consistent, communicative and clear. What this means is you and your boss may not socialize with each other at the next staff bar-b-que, but together you can still be highly effective because you’ve both invested in the work you do for the organization and each other.
Influence requires trust, because before your boss can stick her/his neck out for you, he/she has to know that you are both aligned on what is important and meaningful in the work you do. This requires you to know what your bosses’ priorities are, and not only the strategic or operational items, but also the way your boss likes to receive information. Often, we communicate based on how we would like to be communicated to, not how we would like to be received by the listener. Being able to understand how your boss likes to be communicated with is a highly effective way to continually build trust, and influence. Does your boss like facts? Start there. Does he need to know about planning or progress? Use it. Is she more concerned about how the work impacts others? Tell her. Is your boss intrigued by new ideas and novel approaches to solving problems? Bring it. All of these things will be important, but start with what is most important to your boss. Figuring that out, and using this information in a helpful way, can make the work you do more effective. This is not always an easy move, but if you spend time listening to the questions your boss asks, and how she/he communicates with your team, you’ll start to see a pattern emerging that can help you to re-orient your communication to better meet his/her needs. You can also just ask how she/he prefers to receive information – a reasonable request that shows you are invested in your relationship at work.
Managing up doesn’t mean sacrificing your needs, if you feel your boss is being unethical (in word or deed), or is not upholding the values and principles of the organization, then you have an important decision to make. You will not always be a good fit with your boss, but if there is absolutely nothing upon which to build a relationship that includes mutual respect, then consider what actions you could take (which may include speaking with your bosses’ boss, or looking for a different role).
Managing up should always be about building and maintaining healthy relationships that are mutually satisfying and empower both parties to be more effective in their roles. This will require you to practice emotional management (whether you like, or dislike, your boss) and have the hard conversations necessary to course-correct or re-align with each other (remember, your boss will be doing this too). It also requires self-compassion. As you learn, be gentle with yourself, mistakes are a part of the learning process. Know that even the journey towards mastering the skill of managing up can lead to increased working life well-being.
"Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing."