On the long list of crucial job skills that you aren’t taught in school, how to manage up ranks high. You may enter the workforce with the belief that your boss is there to manage your performance, but their management style is something you have no control over. Learning the best way to manage your boss, however, is an essential skill that you’ll use throughout your career. (It also works with colleagues who have different working styles.)
Whether you work for a micromanager who needs constant updates or the opposite, a boss who is totally MIA, there are usually subtle ways you can help them adjust their style to make your working life easier.
Of course sometimes you have just a plain bad boss. In that case, here’s what to do:
1. Identify their triggers, and preemptively prepare for them. A difficult boss can be unpredictable, but usually there are certain things that send them over the edge. They may give you vague instructions, yet expect you to know exactly what they want. Ask them something like “I know that it bothers you when you get a report that doesn’t analyze these things in details. Can I run a few questions by you to make sure that I’m focusing on the right things?”
2. Show your appreciation while putting the ball back in their court. Your boss might expect you to bite off more than what you can chew. So tell them that you are grateful for their trust and confidence. Then gently remind them that based on your prior discussion, you were under the impression that your focus should be on another project. In order to deliver on that project, you need to focus on that. This forces them to think about what’s really important.
3. Know your limits. There are certain bosses that are just difficult to be around, and you need to know at what point enough is enough. If you feel like you’ve tried your best at managing up but working with them is affecting your mental health, it’s time to think about looking for other opportunities. You should never compromise your mental health for a job.
To learn more tactics, listen to this week’s episode, where we talk to Dana Brownlee, author of The Unwritten Rules of Managing Up: Project Management Techniques from the Trenches.