In my childhood, Tania was my best friend. We spent almost every waking moment of the day together, we slept over at each other’s places, we played together every afternoon after school, we went to the same school and we were in the same class … inseparable!
Tania also had a great friendship with Natalie. Natalie didn’t like me and I could never seem to work out why. I didn’t dislike her but she was hard to be friends with. And, as a child, if she didn’t like me then I wasn’t keen to be her friend.
Every now and again I would get jealous that Tania would spend time with Natalie but it was quickly forgotten once Tania and I were hanging out together again.
It was awkward when the three of us were ever together, and I think Tania was clever enough to know to avoid that as much as possible.
Back then, my efforts to build a friendship with Natalie didn’t seem to go anywhere. So after a while I simply didn’t try.
It wasn’t until adulthood when it became obvious that we had different styles, behaviour and communication preferences, values and outlooks on life.
And that’s okay.
I can appreciate that now, and it is a great reminder of when you have a boss who’s not recpetive to you, to first explore the relationship from similarities and differences for greater appreciation and to build an understanding of what might be really going on.
What’s the block really about?
How do you manage up effectively when your manager is not receptive?
This is a tough situation, made tougher if you are not sure of why the manager is not receptive to you.
Working out how to turn this around will not be the same for everyone and the strategy will vary depending on the underlying issues. One size does not fit all in resolving this.
In Stephen R. Covey’s classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the fifth habit is, seek to understand then to be understood.
Within this habit Covey suggests diagnosing before prescribing. This is what this email is all about. Diagnose means to recognise and analyse. So looking at similarities and differences is one way to do that. We’ll explore that and four other approaches to this situation.
We can often feel the pressure to rush in and fix, to push harder because you can see the merit of what you’re suggesting.
Without first deeply understanding the manager or the situation you may never get your way.
1. Similar or Different?
As much as it might not be pleasant to hear it, we do know that we are not for everyone. I was not for Natalie! Just as we might not connect well, gel, like, resonate with some people, the same for others: they may not see us as easy to deal with, understand, gel with, etc.
This usually stems from a range of differences, such as:
- style of communication
- preference for working conditions
- focus on task or people
- outgoing or guarded
- details oriented or big picture
- planned or unplanned
Opposites can frustrate yet they can be of immense value when understood, engaged in the right way, and appreciated. When understood, you are equipped with how to flex and adjust your communication so that the manager will be more receptive to you.
Just from the short list above can you pick how you and your manager may be similar in some things while different in other areas.
For example, if your manager is a fast talking, details oriented person who asks lots of questions, then this would tell you to come to any meeting prepared with all the details! Before any meeting, especially if you’re proposing something, be extremely thorough in your preparation to pitch, consider all the possible objections and have the answers on hand. You may even ask a colleague to listen to your pitch with a view to finding anything and everything that might be missing or wrong. That way you can be sure, as possible, to pre-empt and meet the needs of your manager.
2. In your lane?
Another area to explore to determine why your manager is not receptive is the fit of what you’re suggesting or proposing.
In this context, your ideas may be brilliant but they may not fit a bigger picture. Your manager will (or should) have insight into information about the business or organisation at a more strategic level so what you propose to them needs to fit that strategy.
Taking time to understand what the current strategy is and ensuring your ideas and suggestions align will make saying yes easier for your manager.
Alternatively, you may be seen as being out of your lane.
Perry, a middle manager, was really frustrated that no one would take on his ideas. His boss was also frustrated saying that Perry needs to stick to his lane. Perry’s intent was to be helpful so he would send information and ideas to his management colleagues and cc his boss; he’d send through ideas and information to his boss with email subject lines, such as, “This is something we should do.”
What Perry needed to realise is that his helping was not being seen in the same light. His colleagues and boss thought he was trying to take over the place; to tell everyone what to do. Everyone wanted Perry to ‘stick to his own lane’.
Be sure that what you’re suggesting fits the scope of what you’re there to do and the way you suggest it clearly demonstrates the value add.
3. Pick Your Timing
Do you know what time of the day your manager is most receptive?
Can you read your manager’s mood as they return from a meeting / come onto an online meeting?
Know when to ask and when to hold off. Your excitement for what you want to take to your manager may hinder your ability to read a situation. It’s important to be excited about your work and it’s essential you can keep it in check so you can pick the right time to share it.
4. Make me shine
How does what you want from your manager help make your manager shine?
Just as we like to shine in our role, to be acknowledged for the good work we do, the same applies as you go up the line. Your manager wants to be seen as effective and successful, their manager wants to be seen as effective and successful, the CEO wants to be seen as effective and successful…
We’re all human, right?
Pitch your proposals, start your conversations, contribute to the meetings, share your insights through the lens of how this could make your manager, the team and the organisation shine.
Yes, there will be the rare manager who steals your deserved credit. You can either speak up respectfully and state that you’d appreciate acknowledgement of your contribution or you could focus on the outcome of your proposal being approved irrespective of who gets credit.
5. Straight Talk
If the relationship with your manager is quite positive, open and respectful then save yourself and them a lot of time and frustration and have a straight talk conversation about the issue.
In a private conversation, you can simply start the conversation with any of these prompts:
- “How do you like me to manage up to you?”
- “How do you like me to present ideas or proposals to you?”
- “Is there a strategic direction that I am not aware of; I like contributing ideas and suggestions but want to be on point.”
The most important part of this conversation is listening to what and how your manager responds. Even if you don’t like the answer, they will be giving you important information to help guide your next steps.
I’d love to know your thought on these five suggestions…