Managing others can be a challenge.  Encouraging, motivating and cajoling staff takes a lot of thought and effort but the most demanding management task of all can be managing your boss, or your peers.

As a young Chef back in the 1980’s it was simply unthinkable to consider any sort of upward feedback.  It would probably have been perceived as gross insubordination and just led to even more aggressive behaviour until you left.  A number of big corporates are now doing 360 Degree feedback, where subordinates complete feedback on their manager.  This needs to be very carefully managed because it can be fraught with danger and full of positive bias for fear of retribution.  Back in the 1990’s I worked with a Hotel General Manager who wanted to look enlightened and asked for 360 Degree feedback.  Only one of the team was robustly honest and he was promptly bawled out for being negative and disloyal!  The GM was not nearly as enlightened as he thought he was!

Finding fault

The greatest challenge I had, was with a particular HR Manager who seemed to find fault with everything I did.  I was still in my first job as Training Manager back in the mid-1990s and if anything went wrong in the office I could expect to hear about it from her, even if it had nothing to do with me.  She was also quite stressed and this made her rather sensitive and very defensive.  I began to hear a lot of other managers refer to her in derogatory terms so I discovered it was not only me she was being harsh with.  As a relatively junior manager, it took me a while to get my head around how to give her some feedback that she was being rather unreasonable and her behaviour was not engaging others, especially her peers.

In the end, I just had to see her as another fellow human that was doing her very best to succeed in the only way she knew how.  I wanted her to be great but her current behaviour wasn’t helping that.  So one day, just after she’d had a challenging incident with the General Manager, I braced myself for an onslaught, sat down in her office and asked a few questions without any judgement or preconceived ideas about how she would respond.  It was a rather odd experience.  As I listened to her concerns, worries and self-doubt it all boiled over and she tearfully expressed that she wasn’t happy in her role because she wasn’t influencing the General Manager or her peers.  It was interesting to see the vulnerability under her tough exterior, and to be able to genuinely support her because I had removed my judgements about her.

Although we never spoke about it again her behaviour towards me changed and I was no longer the one who caused all the problems.  To cut a long story short, it wasn’t too long after that that she decided to move on; it wasn’t really the right environment for her.  Although she was no longer on my case, I must say I was rather delighted!

Finding Courage

For me it was an interesting lesson in developing the courage to address the behaviour of my boss.  Especially after 10 years as a Chef in an old-school military-conflict-zone style of environment where you just did as you are told.

However, it’s not always necessary to give feedback directly; you can just tweak and adjust your behaviour and attitude using the Ten Tips below that I’ve collated from different sources and various workshops with managers.

When you are a Director or Senior Manager it can also be tricky to give peer-to-peer feedback and it may be useful for you to scan through the Ten Tips below and see which ones may be useful to experiment with.

So, depending on the culture of your organisation here are a few emotionally intelligent ways to get the best from your manager (and / or your peers).

  1. Find out what is most important to them and be really clear about their Objectives and your Objectives
    • Ask them “What is most important to you about your work?”
    • Practice the ability to Zoom in and Zoom out – seeing the big picture as well as the detail,
    • Be respectful of their ‘Important’ priorities and manage their ‘Urgent’ ones with care – are they disorganised and dropping you in it at the last moment?
  2. Thank them when they give you feedback
    • It shows they care about you – especially when the feedback is negative or difficult for you to hear,
    • Avoid being defensive or making excuses.  Just accept it and say “Thank you for helping me to be even better”.
  3. Tell them what they do that helps you
    • This will encourage them to repeat their constructive behaviour and puts you in the traditional power role.
  4. Share credit for your achievements 
    • This shows a confidence and generosity normally associated with the person in the senior role.
  5. Be sympathetic and supportive when things go wrong 
    • It can be lonely being in charge and support from others is appreciated long after the low moments have passed.
  6. Ask for advice 
    • You don't need to act on everything they say but make sure one or two points are, and play up the importance of their contributions.
  7. Stand up for your own Priorities
    • Don’t be too meek, or too selfish,
    • Explain the importance of your own priorities,
    • Don’t let requests get in the way of service delivery: Staff and Customers first,
    • Negotiate timescales / deadlines – people are often more flexible than we think.
  8. Make sure you are clear about what was agreed and be fully committed to it
    • If your ideas are different; challenge the decision early enough and explain your reasons and offer alternative suggestions / reasons,
    • Even if you disagree, you need to support it and be professional.
  9. Trust one another
    • Assume that you have permission to argue or question their views,
    • Tolerate different perspectives – they will probably have different motivations and traits to yours,
    • See it both ways.
  10. Move on – don’t hold on to bad feelings

Do let me know how you get on with applying some of the above and I’d love to hear about any other successful strategies that you may have used.

Remember, especially as you consider managing upwards . . . Stay Curious!

With kind regards,
David Klaasen 

David Klaasen is director and owner of the niche HR consultancy, Inspired Working Ltd.  (www.InspiredWorking.com)

We now have a new website packed full of learning resources for managers for more info see www.InspiredWorkingonline.com

If you have a communication or performance problem and would like some objective advice drop him a line at info@InspiredWorking.com.

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