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What to do when you’re met with resistance from your manager

Rather than passively worrying that your manager is losing faith in you, here’s how to diagnose the issue and quickly course-correct.

What to do when you’re met with resistance from your manager
[Source photo: Wavebreakmedia/iStock]

Does this sound familiar? You’re working on challenging projects within your department, but your manager keeps putting up roadblocks and impeding your progress. If so, you may worry that your manager is losing confidence in you. Yet wondering whether or not this is true could be costing you.

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Instead of fretting, analyze the situation and take action so your department doesn’t suffer. Remember: Resistance from a manager doesn’t mean your career is stalled. Commit to learning and making strides in a more positive direction. To do this, you must first diagnose the issue quickly so you can course-correct and continue to provide value.

If Your Manager Dismisses Your Ideas

Problem: When you are in a meeting, think about whether your manager dismisses your ideas and turns to others for their point of view. Look for data points and a trend. For example: in most leadership meetings, are your ideas quickly dismissed and glossed over?

Action Plan: If this is happening frequently, think about how you can package your ideas differently. Try showing and selling your ideas before the meeting. Remember: Part of selling and influencing is preselling. If you’re having trouble with the “quick sale,” let your manager percolate on your ideas. Preselling will help you get a better read on your manager’s thinking processes; it will also enable you to brainstorm better solutions. While you can’t completely control how your manager views your ideas, you can build better bridges with your boss by preselling and becoming crystal clear on what is expected.

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If Your Manager Sees You Less Frequently

Problem: Another worrying trend may be that you have fewer meetings or interactions with your manager. If you’re getting less face time with your manager, do you worry your stock is lowering?

Action Plan: Use various tools and methods to share your ideas and demonstrate your value. First, discern the most effective way to dialogue with your manager. For example, if your manager wants to communicate through email, share updates that way. One former client had a manager who was shutting them out and appearing to lose confidence in their work. The senior leader began to share ideas via email. My client was able to demonstrate their value without face time due to remote working.

Another way to increase your time with your boss is to offer to have shorter meetings. You can get a lot accomplished in 15-minute sessions. A word of caution: Don’t request meetings just for the sake of meeting. When you sit down with your boss—virtually or face-to-face—make sure you have information to share that is relevant and valuable.

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If Your Manager is Slow to Respond

Problem: If your manager is slow to respond, it can be tricky to ascertain the meaning behind their silence. Everyone can become extremely busy and unresponsive. Yet if you’re excited to move ahead or eager to hear feedback on an idea, your boss’s non-responsiveness can feel demoralizing.

Action Plan: The simple action here is to be patient. Your timeline doesn’t always sync up with your manager’s needs and priorities. Consider how your manager likes their information served up. For example, one former client analyzed his conversations with his manager; he found that if he asked his manager how his weekend was via email when he was sharing some information, he got more response back on occasion. It can open the door for you to share your recommendations and begin to build the path back to repair your brand with an unresponsive, skeptical manager. 

If Your Boss Treats Your Ideas with Increased Skepticism

Problem: You may feel that all your ideas are met with skepticism. While healthy debate is essential to get the best solutions, too much resistance can shake your confidence.

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Action: When you have the data to show that you are consistently met with skepticism by your manager, consider these three tactics. One of the easiest ways to pressure test your ideas is to have a trusted peer debate you and poke holes in your ideas before you meet with your manager. Similarly, consider building bridges with other managers or peers to help you presell your ideas. Finally, take a look at what you are recommending. Are you spending enough time with your recommendations so that, when you present to your manager, your solutions are airtight?

Meeting resistance from your manager can feel frustrating and demoralizing. Remember to take a long-term perspective on your career. It will be winding, with lots of twists and turns. Protect your best interests by pausing to see where you may need to pivot. Try shifting how you deliver your recommendations and ideas.  Most importantly, make sure to get data—ask for a 360 so you get the clearest insight into where you truly stand with your manager. Then, keep experimenting to figure out the best way to deliver your ideas.


Anne Sugar is an executive coach and keynote speaker who has advised top leaders in verticals such as biotech, technology, and finance. Anne serves as an executive coach for Harvard Business School Executive Education and has guest lectured at MIT.

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