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Give Better Feedback: The Art of Managing Up!

Updated: Oct 4, 2019

Do you ever feel frustrated because you want to tell your manager something but you just don’t know how to go about it?

This came up recently in a leadership class I was facilitating. Donna was expressing her frustration with her boss for not giving team members the opportunity to weigh in on things in the meeting. What Donna noticed was a lot of venting and complaining after meetings because people don’t feel heard.

Most often what happens in this situation is instead of going to our manager we get irritated and start to vent to other people. Or we get a sarcastic or edgy tone when we are speaking about the situation. Sometimes we actually speak that way to our manager. We feel powerless, discouraged and even resentful.

Guess what? This behavior never helps the situation, it makes you look like the problem, and it almost always makes things worse.

How can you become the solution, rather than the problem? How can you influence, and manage UP?

It all starts with one little shift. You might have guessed it - it’s in the way you’re thinking about it. (Remember, in this article from a couple of months ago, I wrote about how thoughts and beliefs drive our actions).

What do you imagine your conscious or even subconscious thoughts might be around this situation?

  • “I can’t tell my boss what to do.”

  • “It’s not my role. She ought to know this in her position.”

  • “I’ll be seen as negative and even disrespectful.”

  • “My boss will hold it against me.”

It’s true, these thoughts may have stemmed from past experiences. However, let’s be really objective for a moment. We probably played a role in those past experiences, perhaps with an edginess to our tone of voice, or just not being direct enough. And even if we didn’t play a role, realizing that everyone has their own issues and not taking it so personally will help us to not let that deter us from doing the right thing.

Changing our thoughts and beliefs will allow us to be open and helpful:

  • “I can help my manager see things from a different perspective.”

  • “One of my roles on this team is to contribute with feedback and helpful solutions - up, down, and across!”

  • “I’ll be seen as helpful.”

  • “I won’t take my manager’s behavior personally. I’ll continue to help with potential solutions.”

When we think positively about helping our manager to realize something, sharing this information will come across much better.

“Hey John, I noticed something the other day I think might really help the team. I’m not sure if you noticed it too - it seemed that people needed a little more time to respond in the meeting?” [pause, and give time for your manager to reflect and respond].  

If he’s open and agrees, you might offer a solution:  “Maybe we could have them jot their ideas down, then take a few minutes to hear them. I think we might be missing some good input.” If he’s not in agreement or not interested, you might back it up with why it’s important to him. “I’m telling you this because we might be missing some good input, and it might save us time later because people leave the meeting and talk about everything they would have said - and then it turns into excuses and complaining.”

If we truly believe our role on the team is to help, our intent stays in a positive place. Most managers appreciate your input when you show them how it helps. If your manager does not appear to be open to input, you may decide to help that person see that and the impact it has. In private, you could say something like “Julie, I felt like you didn’t want to hear what I was bringing up about the team meeting. I know it’s tough to get through everything in that meeting, and the impact of not getting people’s input is hard to see because they’re careful to keep it concealed. I just felt you deserved to know this and I’m willing to help with it if you like?”

Our role on a team is to contribute and help.

Whether we’re a mid-manager and report to a senior leader, or we’re a supervisor reporting to a manager, or we’re a customer rep, in sales, a project manager or any position at all - we can influence others and manage up to help make a positive impact. It all starts with believing our role is to help the team.

What other ways can you help inspire growth with your team? I’d love it if you shared your ideas in the comments!

Cheers, Laurie

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