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3 Tips for Managing Up: How to Communicate With Your Boss … Like a Boss

The term “managing up” sometimes gets a bad rap. It might sound like flattery or manipulation … or like you’re doing your supervisor’s job. After all, isn’t your boss supposed to be managing you? If you’re new to a job, a team or the workforce, managing up might be an uncomfortable concept for a lot of reasons.

But managing up really is about making your relationship with a supervisor as productive as possible. (And yes, it’s valuable whether your supervisor is supportive or not.)

The supervisor-subordinate relationship is a two-way street, even if it doesn’t always seem that way. Think of it like having a team coach: Your boss’s career success depends on your performance and reliability, as your leader’s ability to guide you affects your own career.

Managing up requires efficiently mastering three elements of communication. In return, you’ll be able to do your job more effectively, work more productively with your supervisor and often make your whole team look better in the process.

1. Know how your boss receives information

If you don’t already know how your supervisor likes to receive information, find out! Learning the difference between how they can receive information and how they prefer to receive it is critical. This will go a long way toward ensuring your ideas are heard. Management authority Peter Drucker distinguishes between “readers” and “listeners.” Readers like to review information, like in an email, before discussing it; listeners want to hear information first and get a written summary later.

If you’re getting glazed eyes during your weekly updates, or find your boss always has a ton of follow-up questions after discussing a project, that’s a sign you may want to adjust your communication style. Another effective option is to simply ask them which style they prefer.

2. Know how to communicate frequently

Cadence is another important aspect of communicating effectively with your boss. Having a one-on-one meeting, weekly or biweekly, is a common way to ensure the lines of communication stay open. But that’s no guarantee it’ll work for either party.

If regularly scheduled meetings prove challenging, work with your boss to find other ways to chat. That might mean taking the initiative to reschedule those one-on-ones, or finding time to share project updates as your supervisor walks to a meeting. A weekly memo might work better for your team, especially if you are not located in the same building.

Don’t be afraid to get creative! The key here is to find time to ask questions, confirm priorities and address issues together.

3. Know which priorities matter most

Know your priorities and your boss’s priorities. What metrics does he or she need to meet? How does your work help meet or hinder those metrics? What spells success for your boss and your team? How can you make their job easier?

Don’t assume you know – ask your supervisor.

That way, you gain clarity on how to load-lift in a meaningful way. And that shows initiative, gives you a chance to demonstrate competence and helps your boss focus on the areas of work where your responsibilities don’t overlap.

When you can incorporate all three pieces of communication into your workflow – communicating via his or her preferred method, meeting regularly and clarifying priorities – you can foster more momentum in your career. You’ll work more smoothly with your supervisor, increasing productivity for both of you and boosting the potential of your entire team.