This is an article in a series about communication challenges that occur on Teams and between colleagues and Leaders. The issues in this series were highlighted by those who responded to a recent survey I conducted with my LinkedIn connections in which I asked what their top two daily/weekly challenges were at work. The responses I received were remarkably similar among Team Leaders and Heads of Departments.
Managing up, was a particularly hot topic. The ability to address concerns about and with one’s superior is uncomfortable for most people. There are inherent risks in presenting negative feedback to a senior leader. At the same time, there are costs to productivity by not resolving problems between Leaders and Senior Leaders. Here are a few of the statements I received in the survey related to “managing up”:
o Shielding Team from micromanaging style of Senior Leaders
o Ineffective communication from Senior Leadership
o Owners that delegate responsibility but not authority
o Micromanagement rather than performance management
o Goals for company success take priority over Leader development and employee satisfaction
The message that I hear from Leaders (aka Middle Managers) is that it feels like being squeezed between upper Management and the people who do the work. The pressures for meeting deadlines, and quality control tends to override the need to support and motivate the Team members. This is a tension that permeates many workplaces. And yet, there is very little attention given to finding remedies and practices that guide Leaders to handle the uncomfortable responsibility to ‘manage up’.
The answer to this tension is simple, although, it may not feel easy. The answer is to master communication, both inside and out. By inside, I mean the inn-er chatter of your mind, that part of you that is continuously assessing the outside world as dangerous. Master your own self talk and how you assess situations, and you will be halfway to a positive conversation with your Leader. Once you master your inner dialogue, apply the same level of attention to what and how you speak to your boss.
Consider the following 4 steps in preparing for a difficult conversation with a senior leader:
1. Calm your fears and expect only the best outcomes for the interaction. Only engage in the conversation when you have an inner calm.
2. Be clear about the facts. Speak only about the facts. Eliminate (or at least recognize and contain) the emotions you have attached to the issue.
3. Be ready to share solutions and options about the issue, not only the details of the problem.
4. When presenting your issues and solutions, check to make sure that your words are congruent with other aspects of your communication, i.e., tone of voice, facial expressions, body posture.
Most conversations go off the rails because one or both people give mixed messages. When you have cluttered and negative thoughts you are unlikely to be able to give a confident positive message. You may think you said the ‘right’ things, but other parts of your communication tell a different story. Remember that ‘understanding’ lies with the listener. It is the responsibility of the speaker to ensure that the listener receives the message as it was intended to be understood.
Managing up, as with all work relationships, begins with trust. In order to build trust, the ability to communicate with clarity, congruency and respectfulness is key for positive relationships.