How to manage your manager

Apr 01, 2019

3 mins

How to manage your manager

Is your relationship with your boss causing you frustration? You’re not alone. In a 2017 survey carried out by the Audencia Business School, in Nantes, France, and the French research and consulting company BVA, seven out of ten employees said they would feel more fulfilled if their manager was less involved. But here’s the good news: you have the power to influence the nature of your collaboration and improve the quality of your relationship. According to Hélène Jacob, author of Who’s the boss? …Or How to Manage Your Boss, “the employee is responsible for 50% of the relationship with their superior.” Here are a few simple tips for how to turn your manager into a super-boss.

Lay the foundation for a healthy relationship

Your manager is your daily contact person. They guide and assess your work and have considerable power over your future in the company. To turn them into an ally and stop them taking the wind out of your sails, it’s essential to build a healthy relationship with them.

A manager is a person just like anyone else: they learn, make mistakes, and need your help to grow. Use every opportunity to give feedback (both positive and negative) to help them in this process. Here’s how.

1. Guide them on your way of working

Surprise surprise, your manager is not a mind reader. Every employee has their own expectations: some expect clear guidelines, others seek broad autonomy, some look for challenges. What you need to do is explain the way you operate, ask them to tell you what theirs is and then agree on a modus operandi that suits everyone.

2. Learn to express your needs using the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) model

The NVC approach, developed by Marshall Rosenberg PhD, is a four-part process, involving:

  • Observation: state the facts objectively.

  • Feelings: explain what/how you felt.

  • Needs: set out your needs.

  • Requests: express your requests in a clear and positive manner.

For example: “Yesterday, when you pointed out my mistake on the Y file [observation], I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed [feeling]. I need your trust and the respect of my colleagues [need]. So that I can maintain good relations with everyone, next time I’d like you to talk with me beforehand. Is that OK with you [request]?


3. Build a constructive dialog

Do you have a problem with a project or do you disagree with your boss on a particular topic? When you report difficulties to your manager, avoid flagging up problems without offering a solution. Indeed, avoid presenting your solutions aggressively without leaving the door open for dialog. The method: set out the facts and suggest several possible solutions (with pros and cons) and ask for their opinion.

4. Keep your end of the deal

Before blaming your manager, try to follow through and fulfil their expectations. They’ll be more open to listening to your feedback if they see that you’re working with integrity.

The magic of positive feedback

It is more natural to give feedback when things go wrong than if everything is fine, but positive feedback is a very effective tool for transforming people’s behavior. No manager wants to be hated by their staff, but not everyone knows how to avoid it. Positive feedback reinforces the “best behavior to follow” and creates a virtuous circle. According to Paul Devaux, head of the French coaching firm Orygin, there are three types of positive feedback:

  • Alternative feedback. Introduce an alternative: “I prefer it when you give me some guidance before I embark on my research.”

  • Reinforcement feedback. Encourage the same actions: “I feel much more efficient and motivated since we’ve been holding these team meetings early on in the day.”

  • Reflexive feedback. Touch upon something that’s important to the individual: “I see that creativity is very important to you.”

So how can you give good feedback that helps your manager move in the direction that best suits you? There are three rules to follow to ensure your feedback will be well received.

  • Goal: feedback should focus on actions and not be about passing judgment on someone. It must be factual and based on your observations.

  • Sincere: feedback must be authentic and about sharing positive feelings.

  • Constructive: feedback should pave the way for improvement or recommendations on future actions.

The ideal manager knows how to adapt their management style to each of their employees—they have authority without being overbearing and they know how to motivate their team. This leadership determines how they will be perceived by their employees. However, few manage to succeed without outside help or help from their closest collaborators. So, put your best smile on, arm yourself with a double dose of patience, and turn your grumpy, unfair, passive boss into a charming manager.

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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