How to Manage Your Boss

Creating a more productive relationship can help both you and your boss.

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Alison Green
Frustrated with your boss? Or finding your boss frustrated with you? Here are 10 tips to manage your boss and hopefully end up with a far easier, pleasant, and more productive relationship:

1. Make sure you’re aligned about expectations. Talk explicitly with your manager about your goals and priorities for the year and what success would look like for you, as well as what decisions she should be consulted on and what kinds of things you should handle on your own without her input. This might sound obvious, but often explicitly discussing these topics can bring conflicting assumptions to the surface—and solve them.

2. Pay attention to what kinds of questions your boss asks so you get a better understanding of the types of things she cares about. By paying attention to what she asks or seems worried about, you can often draw larger messages about the sorts of things that she’ll care about in the future. If you learn to anticipate those things in advance and address them before she has to ask, you’ll be every manager’s dream.

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3. Make your boss’s job easy. When your manager assigns you work, summarize your understanding of the outcome she’s looking for, the deadline, and any constraints. For instance, you might say, “So it sounds like we’re looking for a vendor who can get us faster turnaround times, without going up significantly in price, and we need some options by August 15.” Again, it sounds obvious, but often simply repeating back your understanding of the assignment can stop miscommunications before they start. And from there, stay engaged by checking in with her on an ongoing basis, offering updates, and giving her chances for input.

4. Whenever possible, suggest solutions. Instead of just bringing your boss a problem and saying “What should I do about X?”, you’ll make it easier for both of you if you say, “Here’s the deal with X. I’ve thought about A, B, and C, and I think we should do C because… Does that sound okay to you?”

5. Focus on your sphere of control. Inevitably, things will frustrate you that you can’t change or control. Rather than focusing on things that you can’t do much about (like a busy manager who cancels your regular weekly meeting), think about what you can do (such as saying, “I know you’re really busy, but can I talk to your assistant and get 10 minutes on your calendar?”).

6. Speak up when you're unhappy. If you're frustrated about something, raise it, talk about the impact, and discuss how it could go differently in the future. (Of course, be smart about this: Bring it up at a time when your boss isn't swamped or frazzled, and think about your delivery ahead of time, just as you would want her to do if she were raising a sensitive issue with you.)

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7. Don’t take it personally. There will be times when you have a different point of view than your manager on something where she’s the ultimate decision-maker. When this happens, you should advocate for what you believe, and if you think your boss is making a mistake, part of your job is to explain why. But if your boss ultimately picks a different route, it’s helpful to have reasonably thick skin; don’t take it personally, and keep your ego out of it.

8. Don’t forget your boss is human. Because your boss is human, there may be times when she is grouchy, frustrated, or frazzled, or when she would appreciate hearing that she handled something well. Plus, realize that in the same way you might have sensitivities about the relationship, she might, too. For instance, if you’re taking on responsibilities that used to be hers, she probably won’t appreciate hearing that they used to be a disaster until you came along. In other words, be thoughtful.

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9. Listen to feedback with an open mind, and don't get defensive. It's fine to disagree, but do it in a non-defensive way. For instance: "I see what you're saying. The way I was looking at it was...."

10. Last, have your act together. Stay on top of things, ensure your boss only has to tell you something once, don't let things fall through the cracks, and generally be someone she can rely on. Often employee complaints of micromanagement can be traced back to problems in this area, and fixing them can fix the micromanagement. You might be surprised how much easier your boss is to work with when you have your act together!

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.