Workplace Emotional Traps, Part III: Managing Up and Extreme Bosses

In this third installment about workplace emotional traps based on the book Working with You is Killing Me, I’m taking a look at what authors Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster recommend in terms of dealing with your higher-ups in the form of supervisors, managers, and bosses. The most important thing to understand about inept higher-ups is that merely complaining about them will change nothing. What you have to do is learn how to manage up, which means shifting your focus away from the other person’s shortcomings and figuring out what you can do to ensure better interactions and keep yourself moving in the right direction.

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The Basics of Managing Up

It’s hard not to look around sometimes and wonder why in the world there are so many poor managers. The reason is simple: Companies promote people into management for all kinds of reasons (technical expertise, seniority, political reasons) but rarely for their ability to manage, and they often don’t get any training on how to manage, either. What you need to do in response are make two immediate decisions: The first is to accept that your supervisor/manager/boss has limitations that probably won’t change; and the second is to accept responsibility for making the relationship better. Here are the five pivotal practices of managing up:

  1. Train your supervisor/manager/boss to regularly meet with you. Make less-than-15-minutes appointments when it’s convenient to their schedule, and be persistent if they get canceled at first. Always re-schedule!
  2. Have a detailed agenda prepared for each meeting. These meetings will work for you and your boss only if you’re running them by being well prepared with an agenda and any supporting information you need. If the boss strays off-topic, gently bring it back to the written agenda.
  3. Be acutely aware of your boss’s changing priorities. Anytime you can get a quick reading as early in the day as possible, do it. Ask questions like, “What can I do to help you today?” or “What problems can I help you solve today?”
  4. Anticipate problems and offer solutions. You have to be looking ahead at what’s likely to go wrong so you’re ready for it when it does happen. Quite a few problems are “normal” occurrences and should be treated as surprising or shocking.
  5. Be ready at all times to give a status report on your projects. This is absolutely essential if you want to be seen as competent, organized, informed, and helpful.

Dealing with Difficult and Extreme Bosses

There’s a difference between difficult and extreme bosses. The latter are much worse than the former, as you’ll see. There are four basic brands of difficult bosses: The avoider (who basically avoids any confrontation that could provoke a negative reaction in others), the shoot-the-messenger (afraid of negative information, they blast those who deliver bad news), the sacred cow (likable but afraid of being exposed as incompetent), and the charming cheating liar (believes must bend rules to get ahead and make deals). The extreme bosses, on the other, come in the following four brands: The controlling egomaniac (bright and driven, they feel they must control everything and everyone around them), the absentee (they have some kind of sense of entitlement that permits them to be both physically and mentally checked out), the unpleasable (needy but impossible to please, and you only exist to serve them), and the credit stealer (always insecure and professionally greedy, they’ll take credit for anything good you do).

Dealing with difficult bosses will take all the unhooking strategies you can master, meaning physical, mental, verbal, and making use of business tools. Dealing with extreme bosses requires going a step further than just unhooking every way you can. You’ll also need to employe the process described above for addressing those fatal attraction relationships I covered in Part II of this series.

August 13, 2015   Updated :August 13, 2015   culture, emotional traps   

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