Conversations are like waltzes: two parties show up, and through their interaction, something new takes place, with each person playing a pivotal role. The best ones happen when each person is attuned to the other.
The key here is that the exchange is a two-way street. It’s not a dialogue with oneself and it’s not a solo dance routine.
Managing also fits this description. It’s not an act in a vacuum, but an interaction with others whose assertions, ideas, and responses build a dynamic. That dynamic can serve to benefit both parties, because—as some of the smartest managers know—there’s as much to be learned from those who work for you as there is to teach them, if not more.
What if your supervisor is thousands of miles away from you? Can you still be managing up in these circumstances? Or—perhaps even more challenging—what if he or she is new to this arrangement, or has a working style that differs vastly from your own? The answer is yes, it’s possible, although it won’t necessarily be easy or feel comfortable…and that’s okay.
Here are some tips that’ll help you show your boss how to work well with you and start managing up:
Observe their actions.
Before taking action, there’s recon to be done. Remember that it’s always more important to pay attention to what people do, rather than what they say. Start by trying to learn what drives your boss. How does she prioritize various projects? In what ways does he make his preferences known to the team? Look and listen, and even from a distance, you’ll learn more about them than they could ever tell you.
Provide plenty of context.
When recommending a change or offering a new approach, do so in a manner that makes it relevant. You wouldn’t want someone to toss ideas out of the blue, so why assume that anyone managing you would? Add context so that he or she will know where you’re coming from, and why. Even more importantly, your boss will begin to get a feel for how you think and strategize based on the way you present your ideas.
Ask Socratic questions.
The old Greek philosopher left an indelible impression on education. If you learn to ask probing open-ended questions, you, too, will receive more in-depth answers. You can use the Socratic method to uncover others’ assumptions, to explore complex ideas, and to examine issues as they arise. Responses from your superior can reveal subconscious motivations, as well as any potential blind spots that nobody previously considered.
Offer timely suggestions.
In many ways, managing up successfully depends upon managing yourself effectively. Keep in mind that your feedback—genius though it is—won’t always be solicited, even in situations when it’s clearly needed, or when your perspective could serve a critical purpose. Managing up in these scenarios means that you become comfortable enough in your own expertise that you recognize when you need to jump in, without someone asking you to do so.