How to Navigate Relationships With Managers

How do you foster a good relationship with your manager? Is there a right and wrong way to deal with management?

Relationships with managers can be tricky to navigate. The way you deal with management depends on your position within the organization.

In this article, we’ll explore how to work with managers from an employee and leadership perspective. 

How to Approach Management

When working with managers, you need to consider their strengths and weaknesses just as much as you consider your own. Your relationships with managers will determine both personal success and the success of your organization.

How you approach management depends on your role within the company. If you’re a lower-level employee, you need to know how to navigate your manager’s weaknesses. If you’re a leader creating standards and processes, you need to develop a structure that allows great managers to thrive.

Advice for Employees

Managers expect a lot from their employees. Their expectations include a willingness to reflect, a desire for self-discovery, an effort to build relationships, a commitment to tracking progress, and an ability to make the workplace better. 

When a manager helps their team use their talents, employees feel supported as they work towards these expectations. However, when a manager gets in the way of their team using their talents, employees have to navigate around their manager’s weaknesses to fulfill these expectations. To work towards expectations while dealing with a poor manager, consider the following tips:

Tip #1: If your manager is always too busy to discuss your performance or goals, ask to schedule a performance management meeting. Explain that you want to receive feedback and discuss your goals. If your manager makes the time to sit down with you for 30-45 minutes, there’s a good chance that they care about your progress, and they’ve just been struggling with time management. If your manager refuses, there’s a good chance that they don’t care about your progress, and that the lack of feedback meetings has nothing to do with their time management abilities. 

Tip #2: If your manager requires you to do things their way, suggest changing the definition of your role to outcomes instead of steps. Often, managers define steps because they believe that it’s the most effective way to make performance consistent and efficient. However, because everyone has different talents, this is simply not the case. Ask them what the desired outcomes of your tasks are and explain how you would work towards that outcome. If there’s pushback, try to find a middle ground. If they refuse to be flexible, their need to control your process may be a result of their need for power instead of a desire for efficiency.

Tip #3: If your manager praises you in ways that you’re not comfortable with, suggest alternative ideas. Schedule a meeting with your manager to show that you’ve thought about this issue and aren’t just speaking “off the cuff.” In the meeting, show gratitude for your manager’s desire to praise your performance but explain why the way that they do it makes you personally uncomfortable. For example, you may be the kind of person who likes low-key affirmation. If your manager brings everyone into the break room to vocally praise your accomplishments, you may feel anxious and overwhelmed. Explain this to your manager and ask that they change their approach in the future. 

Tip #4: If your manager checks in on you too frequently, explain that this feels intrusive and doesn’t help. If your manager is checking in because you’re having personal issues, explain that you need some space to process and move forward. If your manager is checking in for progress or performance reasons, explain that you like to work a bit more independently and that you’d appreciate a bit more space between check-ins. If they respond that they feel more comfortable with constant check-ins, try to find a middle ground that will appease both you and your manager. If your manager is checking in because they’re suspicious of you, there’s nothing you can do because your manager has made the decision that you’re untrustworthy.

Tip #5: If your manager constantly disrespects you by ignoring you, blaming you, taking credit for your work, and so on, get out. If nothing you do seems to work or the behavior of your manager borders on inappropriate or unethical, you need to move out from under their control. This could be a lateral move into another position in the organization or a full departure from the company. While you can go to HR or to leadership to try to state your case, if your manager has been with the company a while and seems stuck in their ways, they likely won’t change. 

Advice for Leadership

If you’re in a leadership position, you need to create an environment where great managers have the freedom to thrive. Recognize the individuality of each of your managers and set wider parameters when creating policies. This allows your managers to work in a way that suits their talents while also ensuring consistency throughout your management team. As you begin to create guidelines, consider the following tips:

Tip #1: Focus on outcomes. Don’t dictate process unless absolutely necessary for legal, financial, or safety reasons. When defining outcomes, find a way to rate performance. For example, if your desired outcome is to increase customer satisfaction, develop a customer survey. If an employee receives high marks and minimal feedback from customers, you know that they are achieving the desired outcome. 

Tip #2: Value high-performers. Praise the employees who succeed, even if they’re in lower-level positions. Find high-performers by developing different levels of achievement in every position and rewarding the people who climb through those levels. To keep people in roles they excel in, develop a wider pay scale that incentivizes staying in a role you excel in over trying to move up the corporate ladder.

Tip #3: Learn from your best. Study the best performers in specific roles. For hiring purposes, study their talents and use them as a guide when looking for new hires. For training purposes, use their insight to develop strategies to improve performance from others in their position or department. Lastly, create a workplace “university” where employees can learn about the practices, talents, and strategies of high-performers in your organization.
Tip #4: Teach the ways of great managers. When training your management team, use the Four Keys and any insights you’ve gained from your most successful employees. Explain the differences between talent, skills, and knowledge and use how to use each when hiring, training, evaluating, motivation, and, if it comes to it, firing. Encourage your managers to focus on their best employees instead of trying to motivate their worst. Lastly, promote the use of feedback that focuses on developing an employee’s strengths instead of trying to fix their weaknesses.

How to Navigate Relationships With Managers

darya

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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