8 Tips for Effective Upward Management

It is often said that employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers. Your relationship with your manager is often an accurate predictor of how happy you are at work, so it stands to reason that a strained relationship with your manager could make you miserable and even hold you back in your career. If you look for advice on improving your relationship with your manager, you’ll find plenty of tips on how to deal with bad ones - but what if your upward management skills are the problem? Here are some behaviours that your manager likely doesn’t appreciate:

Asking Too Many Questions

While you certainly want to have a good understanding of your manager’s instructions, asking questions about every single detail can indicate that you don’t have the knowledge or skills necessary to do your job. If your manager has to worry about your competence (or lack thereof) they might feel the need to micromanage or may avoid assigning you important tasks. Whenever possible, check with coworkers before coming to your manager with questions, and seek out training and coaching in areas where you know you could stand to improve.

Failing to Adjust Your Communication Style

If even the most innocuous interactions with your manager feel tense, it might be due to a difference in communication styles. Try adjusting one or two small things, such as being more or less direct (to match your manager) or noticing whether your manager likes to speak in terms of detail or on a conceptual level. Perhaps your manager prefers brief updates throughout the day rather than long meetings, or would rather communicate via email than phone. Pay attention to their preferred style and adjust your style to meet their needs. If your styles differ dramatically, your manager will likely appreciate it if you approach her/him to discuss their preferences so that you can achieve a healthy balance. Regardless of your preferred communication style, you should always address your manager in a professional and respectful manner, using “I”-statements rather than pointing fingers.

Always Shifting Blame

If you fail to own up to your mistakes, your manager will see you as someone who isn’t on their team and may question your credibility. If you’re incorrectly blamed for a problem, help your manager find a solution rather than shirking responsibility. You may want to explain that you are innocent, but be careful not to implicate others.

Bristling at Constructive Criticism

Constructive criticism is essential to professional development, and your manager will perceive inability to take criticism as a refusal to advance or improve. When your manager gives you feedback, don’t take it personally. Instead, thank them and let them know you’re going to work on improving. Later, try writing your manager’s sentiments in your own words, and turning them into actionable goals. Remember that criticism is a chance to grow and improve, and adjust your attitude accordingly.

Presenting Problems with No Solutions

While you don’t always have the authority or necessary information to solve every problem, you should try to suggest one or two solutions when bringing an issue to your manager. Your job is to help them, not to create more work for them - and constantly showing up at their door with problems will certainly make it seem like you’re doing the latter.

Undermining Your Manager

Pointing out a mistake at a meeting, constantly criticizing your manager’s decisions, or flat-out refusing to follow instructions are all behaviours to be avoided at all costs. Undermining your manager indicates that you can’t be trusted, and can make you seem immature and short-sighted. Instead, talk to your manager one-on-one if you have questions or a difference in opinion.

Bragging, Or Taking Credit When It’s Not Due

Falsely claiming credit for others’ work or bragging about your own accomplishments too much will make you seem like you’re only out for yourself and not a team player. Of course, it’s important to make your value known to your manager, but there are professional and subtle ways to do this. Try adding an “accomplishments” section to the agenda of your weekly meeting with your manager, and give accolades to colleagues when appropriate as well.

Saying, “That’s not my job"

It’s inevitable that you will be asked to do something that’s out of your job description at some point. Your manager expects you to be cooperative, or at the very least polite if the task at hand is outside of your ability. If you’re being asked to take on more than you can reasonably accomplish, try asking your manager how you should prioritize the workload rather than refusing to take on more work.

If you recognise any of these behaviours in yourself, it’s time to make a change - otherwise, your relationship with your manager will suffer and your career will lack a feeling of fulfillment that we all hope for and deserve.

(Please remember that all of our blog posts link to various sources where you can read further information about the topic at hand.)