Managing Up Tips: Learning Your Manager

A key to successfully managing up is an employee’s ability to really learn their manager and figure out what makes them tick. This is what enables them to customize their behaviors and actions to best suit them. Dana Brownlee shares managing up tips and techniques.

Managing Up Tips: Learning Your Manager

As a corporate trainer and team development consultant, I’ve learned a few managing up tips along the way.  Certainly, a key element for success when managing up is the employee learning their manager inside and out so that they can customize their behavior and actions to match their individual preferences.  That may sound great, but the next logical question is what specifically should an employee learn about their manager in order to be poised to manage up successfully?

Are they a morning person or night owl?

This might sound simplistic but understanding their preferred time of day can make a huge difference in the success of day to day interactions.  Have you ever had someone bite your head off only to realize the hard way that they’re just not a morning person and if you want to successfully coexist with them you have to catch them after they’ve had their morning coffee.  While you can certainly figure out this morning/afternoon preference over time by trial and error, it’s so much more practical to just ask them up front.  You may be surprised by their answer, and they’ll probably be somewhat impressed that you’re taking the time to ask proactively.

What’s their preferred communication style?

This one is HUGE!!!!  We’ve all experienced miscommunications in the workplace and seen first hand the potential devastating consequences that can ensue when we’re talking past one another, misinterpreting tone, or falling victim to other common types of miscommunication.  Figuring out how your boss prefers to be communicated with is a huge step forward in your ability to work with them more effectively (and making you the type person they prefer to work with).  To better understand their communication style, you should ideally figure out the following about them:

  • What is their preferred communication mode?  Face to face, phone, email, text/IM?
  • Do they prefer to see/hear the bottom line up front, then details or the details first then build methodically towards a conclusion?
  • Are they more visual, auditory, or kinesthetic?
  • What is their attention span?  Do they prefer shorter meetings (even if you might need to have more frequent meetings) or a single longer meeting to get it all done at once?  Do they glaze over if they get a report more than a single page?
  • Do they prefer brief emails with white space and bulleted points?
  • Do they prefer direct or more nuanced language?

How do you get this valuable information?  More realistically, it’s learned through a combination of direct questioning (when there’s a relevant scenario ideally instead of just asking out of the blue), asking others who know them well, and simple observation.

What are their pet peeves/hot buttons?

Every boss has pet peeves, and they can vary significantly.  Some feel that showing up 5 minutes late to a meeting is a sign of complete disrespect while others feel there’s a natural 3-5 minute leeway for start times.  Some might value responsiveness over everything else and expect to get a response to every email the same day; others may be more laid back and prefer to receive a response when you have something significant to share.  Some bosses have more of a micro management tendency and want to be “in the weeds” so to speak while others are turned off by too much detail or too much involvement.  Definitely take time to figure out what types of behaviors set them off and do everything in your power to avoid them.

Which issues are their priorities?

Managers also vary quite a bit in terms of their personal priorities.  Are they focused on getting promoted, growing the product line, getting the project finished on time on budget, producing zero defects, developing a high performance team, ensuring team morale is high, managing work life balance, etc.? Figuring out what issues they care about most and helping them achieve their goals in that regard can be valuable.

These managing up tips can certainly poise an employee to adjust their behavior to better suit their manager.

For additional managing up tips, this video provides great tips and techniques for managing different types of difficult bosses.

Dana Brownlee is author of The Unwritten Rules of Managing Up: Project Management Techniques from the Trenches (to be published by Berrett-Koehler publishers January 2019).  President of Atlanta based Professionalism Matters, Inc., Dana is an acclaimed keynote speaker, corporate trainer, and team development consultant. She can be reached at Connect with her on Linked In or Twitter @DanaBrownlee.