One of the most common problems I’m asked to solve in my consulting and coaching work with employees is helping them deal with a difficult or challenging boss. We call this “managing up,” because it involves a set of coping skills that employees don’t normally possess in their role.
Oftentimes a boss may be unpleasant. Or perhaps the boss is a bully or a poor communicator. Sometimes the boss is disorganized and then blames the employee for any ensuing problems. Unfortunately for most of us, we have, or will have at some point, a difficult boss who requires special coping strategies.
Instead of leaping to another job hoping that the next one will be better, it’s important to develop managing-up skills. The more you learn to manage up, the more successful you will be wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.
Here are eight ways to manage up—without the boss knowing you’re doing it.
1. Be proactive in your communication. Learn your boss’s preferred communication mode—email, in person drop-ins, or lengthy memos—and be sure to pass along information to her regularly. Most bosses don’t like to be caught unawares. Even if your boss doesn’t ask it of you, keep them updated. This simple strategy works well with bosses who are disorganized or insecure.
2. Match your behavioral style to theirs. Observe your boss’s behavioral and communication style. Do they make quick decisions and work at a fast pace? Do they ponder things for a while and need time to process? The better you are able to match your style to your boss’s style when communicating, the more they will really hear what you’re saying.
3. Accommodate their shortcomings. If you have a boss whose head is in the clouds, instead of grousing about it, help them to be on top of things. If you know your boss is chronically late to meetings, offer to kick off the next meeting for them. If your boss is slow to respond with feedback, continue to work on a project while you wait to hear back from them. Will you be shielding your boss and enabling bad behavior? Maybe, but you’re also giving much-needed support to succeed—and they’ll appreciate you for it.
4. Think about what’s in it for them. Every time you approach your boss, try to imagine what they care about. What do you know about the view from their seat? Can you frame comments in a way that make them feel that what you’re proposing or doing benefits them? This is a useful strategy for every type of boss, but especially for those who tend to rub others the wrong way.
5. Be an outstanding performer. It’s not uncommon for employees to slack off, lose interest, or stop doing their best because they feel entitled with a bad boss. Don’t do it. Keep your mind focused on top performance. Peers and other managers will notice you, even if you think your boss doesn’t.
6. Keep a great attitude. It’s absolutely fine to go home and complain to your spouse or friends about your challenging boss. But when in the office or workplace, stay upbeat and engaged. You never know who is watching or listening.
7. Don’t let yourself be bullied. Bullies get their power from those who are afraid. If your boss is a yeller, a criticizer, or a judge—stand firm. If you’re doing the best job you can do, keep your head held high and don’t give in to the bullying. Ask questions, seek to understand, and work to diffuse a difficult situation instead of cowering or responding in anger. It takes practice, but the results are well worth it.
8. Know their place in the pecking order. Very importantly, know where your boss stands in the company. If your boss is well regarded and well liked, they probably do a very good job of managing up too. As a result, you will be considered the “problem” if you complain about them to higher ups. If you decide you want to take action against your boss, weigh your options carefully before you do.
- Beverly Flaxington is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA), hypnotherapist, and career and business adviser. She’s the author of five business and financial books, including the award-winning book, Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior, and her latest book, Make Your SHIFT: The Five Most Powerful Moves You Can Make to Get Where YOU Want to Go. Learn more at www.thehumanbehaviorcoach.com.