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How to build a great relationship with your boss

It's Bosses Day, time to take stock of getting along with management


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Whether you work with a great manager or a difficult one, this Boss’ Day take some time to consider how to make the most of the relationship.  Even a terrible boss can create lots of opportunities for learning, developing new skills and professional growth. To build a great relationship with your manager, start by taking a proactive approach to the relationship to ensure that you get what you need to succeed, and the organization moves forward most effectively.

Understand your manager’s priorities. Learn what is important to your manager, including their preferences and expectations. Observe and ask questions to unveil this information. If there are organization documents that reference strategic priorities, read them. Discuss how your role fits within the company priorities and what your manager considers most important for the next few months in relation to it. Generally, managers are glad to have an employee who is curious about organizational priorities and interested in working in alignment with them.

Make his/her job easier. Don’t make more work for your manager. When you send an email, try re-wording the request to provide an idea or solution to which the manager just needs to agree. Do not ask questions like “What should I do about X?” Questions like that put the burden of thinking through the options and issues solely on the manager.

If you want to be trusted to make good judgments, you have to show you can think things through. If there is not a clear solution, then “I see option A, B, or C. I think C is better because….” and then you can either ask for approval, such as “Let me know if I should proceed with Option C” or communicate intent. “Unless I hear from you, I will move forward with option C.”     

Stay away from drama. Practice good conversational hygiene. Cleanse the subtle digs, flare-ups over small issues, and he said/she said. Be one of those people who de-escalates situations, clarifies what is needed and gets things done. Spooling up blame, defensiveness, or unproductive behaviors will only detract from your success. Figure out what you can do to proactively offer assistance or ease the burden.

Communicate relative to what is on their mind. If you want your manager to listen to you, say something that connects to what they care about. Connect the dots to show specifically how your work, or the issue you want to raise, advances the organization’s priorities. If you’re unsure of the priorities, find out.

Demonstrate your value. Reliably deliver what is expected from your role, and communicate that progress. Focus on the highest priority work. Ensure that your contribution to the organization exceeds your cost. Regularly reflect on how you can enhance your value and improve your performance.

Appreciate. Thank your manager when they provide you with resources or suggestions. Accept some mentoring and advice. You may not agree, or always value their opinion, but see what you can learn from it, and appreciate that they took the time to share their thoughts with you.

“No surprise” policy. Practice regular, proactive communication geared to the level of detail your manager prefers. If you are anticipating something good or bad, share the evidence, and why you think it is important.  

Direct Communication. Address issues directly. In extreme instances, if there are illegal activities, substance abuse or mental illness, you may need to “go over their head,” but such circumstances should be rare. It takes courage to speak to your manager directly, and clearly about your role or issues you experience.

Practice writing issues down, pulling out the emotion and identifying the most important data. Re-write your points and then communicate the facts as you see them, along with your interpretation of what those facts imply. If you are lucky and have worked through these other tips, your manager will communicate directly with you. Building a solid, trusting, collaborative relationship that is mutually beneficial becomes increasingly possible.

Positive change in the workplace begins with you. This Boss’ Day, give yourself the gift of knowing you are building a better your relationship with manager.

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Jessica Hartung

Jessica G. Hartung, MSM, is the founder and CEO of Integrated Work. Jessica’s 20 years of professional experiences with a variety of organizations—government, non-profits, Fortune 500, small businesses, and entrepreneurial ventures—have provided strength and flexibility to her skills as a coach and facilitator. She is known for her straightforward and compelling style that moves individuals and teams to develop the skills necessary to meet and exceed their goals. She is frequently called upon as a trusted advisor to senior leadership teams. Contact Jessica at email@integratedwork.com or 303-516-9001.

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