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Get Happier at the Office: Learn to “Manage Up”

In 2011, we’re focusing on peace of mind, thinking the best of people, and avoiding frustration. Inevitably, though, a giant percentage of our frustration at any given time is work-related. The bald truth is that most managers earn rank through their professional accomplishments rather than their managerial skills. Whether you love or hate your job, dealing with difficult managers is often a fact of life. “Managing up” is about more than making your boss like you in the hopes that she’ll stop bugging you; it’s also about managing your own reactions to the things she does—whether they’re constructive, crazy, hurtful, or even a little verbally abusive.

Your Boss Can Be Insecure, Too
Above all else, remember that most of the annoying office politics you experience are the results of fear or insecurity. Ask yourself whether your boss is just trying to stay in the good graces of her boss. Is it possible that her heinous power trips are just a result of insecurity about whether people take her seriously? This doesn’t justify anything, but anticipating your coworkers’ secret motives will help in nearly all your interactions with them. Even if someone is being incredibly obnoxious, try your hardest to stay positive and resist the urge to complain, since this nearly always backfires by making people think you’re a complainer. Instead, even when you’re not feeling it, try to show your appreciation and be constructive.

Deal with Face Time
Although we feel strongly that everyone needs to master the ability to say no, we also understand that some workplaces really do judge employees who leave earlier than everyone else (even if they’ve finished all of their work). Watch what your coworkers are doing. Don’t be the first one out the door every day—but also don’t play into the whole game. Competing for who can stay the longest will not only support a work culture that values time over quality, but it’ll also teach your managers that you’re always on call. If they frequently see you at work until 9 p.m., are they really going to hesitate to call you for something the one day you actually go home on time? Set boundaries. Plus, leaving when you’re supposed to speaks to the fact that you are capable enough to get stuff done in a timely way.

Take Cues on What’s Most Effective
When you first start a job, you may not know how to reply to negative feedback from your boss (or, sometimes, even how to react to normal interactions). Articulate the style of your boss and company. For example, in some testosterone-driven, financial atmospheres, employees may get the most respect when they have a thick enough skin to take everything in stride and the guts to talk back. In other offices, bosses want subordinates to accept criticism and go away without so much as an explanation—because even genuine explanations are viewed as excuses. Figure out how your boss operates: Do you get anywhere when you try to use reason? Would you spare everyone misery if you nodded, diffused the conversation, and re-approached her to discuss the issue after she cooled down?
When Someone’s Being Downright Mean
A good manager may have the foresight to present feedback in terms of positive improvement and compliment you on what you did do well, but not every manager is a good one. There’s not much you can do about the way your manager speaks to you, even if it’s rude, unfair, or so irrational that it’s over the top. Before you initiate a screaming match that won’t end well for you, take a deep breath and reinterpret your boss’s comments:

  • If your boss does this a lot, imagine him as a crazy person who speaks his own bombastic language. Translate inside your head to figure out how a normal person would express this same thought. “This is a total piece of crap, I hate it, and don’t have any suggestions on how to fix it, but it sucks” may just turn into “I’m disappointed by these results, so why don’t you get back to me with some constructive suggestions on how you think we could improve our process?”
  • Is there any truth in what she is saying? Forget the exact words that are being thrown around—are there any takeaways you should note for future improvement?
  • Take note of all the helpful suggestions and feedback you gleaned from her mean statement and throw out the rest of the words.

Originally published on LearnVest