Managing Up: 7 Ways to Keep the Boss Happy

How to take the lead when communicating with your higher-ups
By Joel Schwartzberg – September 28, 2012

You may have only one career, but you have two key jobs. The first is doing whatever you were hired to do. The second — and just as important if you plan on staying — is keeping your boss happy with you, otherwise known as “managing up.”

Being seen by your manager in a positive and productive light will not only make things easier day to day; it may also be a deciding factor when executives are considering promotions or downsizing staff. Below, some workplace experts share the lowdown on successfully managing up.

1. Show up on time.
You don’t really need an expert telling you this, do you? Getting to work on time will not always earn you points, but consistently showing up late is a sure way to lose them. Being at the office when needed — and at least visible when not needed — reinforces your dedication and work ethic and builds trust. Why blow something so completely under your control?

2. Listen up
When in meetings with your manager, your biggest job is not to talk, but to listen. “Managers like to have the floor and go on and on,” said Marian Thier, executive coach and author of Coaching C.L.U.E.S. “Your job is to get to the essence of the message. That can only be done with 100 percent full attention.”

Also, think twice –- make that three times — before interrupting your boss. It’s rarely worthwhile to break her line of thought, no matter how brilliant your input is.

“When in meetings with your manager, your biggest job is not to talk, but to listen.”

3. Ask good questions. Asking good questions can be self-rewarding, whether or not you get good answers. “By asking really smart, probing questions, you show interest, grasp of the subject, and flattery,” explained Thier. One good approach is to rephrase your manager’s concern or suggestion back to him and ask if you understood it correctly. But be careful not to ask a question already answered. One response you don’t want to hear from your supervisor is “As I said before…” (Refer back to Tip #2)

4. Keep your manager in the loop. Morgan Norman, co-founder and CEO of WorkSimple, a social performance management platform, says it’s critical for workers to keep their bosses “informed on every goal, including progress, problems and the ultimate outcome of the objective.”

Norman said that soliciting feedback is also key. “This not only makes a manager happier, but also allows them to monitor their workforce better,” he explained.

How do you keep from sharing too much or too often with your manager? Christina T. Schlachter, author of Leading Business Change for Dummies and CEO of the consultancy SheLeads, says it pays to just ask. “Take the lead in determining communication. Don’t wait for your boss to do it,” Schlachter said. “Ask your manager how often he or she wants to hear from you and in what form.”

5. Be clear in meetings. Not every meeting should be a brainstorming session. Before sitting down by yourself or with others in your boss’ presence, plan your thoughts in advance to avoid rambling and to strengthen your position. Thier said your goal is to be “clean, clear, and quick.”

“I once had a boss who told me his job was not to listen to me thinking out loud,” said Thier. “He suggested that I think beforehand and come to him with three clear points.”

In addition to keeping the meeting moving, presenting direct and complete ideas also projects efficiency and smarts. (Note: Your manager can ramble all he wants.)

“Managing up doesn’t mean saying yes to every request; that can cause trouble later if you become overwhelmed.”

Your points don’t always need to be complimentary, but be respectful with your criticism. One of my own bosses, the executive producer of a television show, requested that all public critiques and complaints be followed by proposed solutions. It’s good advice; you want to be seen as a problem-solver, not a complainer.

6. Tell your manager what you need. Managing up doesn’t mean saying yes to every request; that can cause trouble later if you become overwhelmed. “Communicating requires you to be open about your needs rather than assuming your manager understands what’s going on,” said career coach Deborah Howard, president of Guiding Change Consulting. “Learn to say, ‘I’ll be happy to work on this project, and I’m also working on these three other projects, so how would you like me to prioritize them?’” Asking for help with prioritization is something managers like, because it really says “I want to do all I can.”

7. Be a Team Player. Your boss probably manages a team, so it helps for you to play nice with your colleagues. Team friction just makes life harder for him. So, offer your help, be polite and resist the urge to gossip. Often, it’s not the most talented person who rises to the top, but the one who people actually like working with.

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