How to manage your manager at work
How to manage your manager at work

As recruiters, we know that it’s rarely the nature of the work, or the long hours, or even the low pay that causes people to quit their jobs. Usually, it's the candidate's manager that sends them running.

If you've ever had a bad manager you'll have your own views on the subject, but the most common complaints are often related to poor communication, unrealistic demands, bad listening skills and a lack of support. In the worst cases, it’s a combination of all of these. 

However, leaving is not your only option. It's normally within your power to improve the situation with your manager; you just need to know how to manage them.

Manage your manager

Most problems at work (and outside of work, for that matter) stem from bad communication. If you can improve the communication flow between you and your boss, you're on your way to an improved working relationship and a happier time at work.

The truth is most managers could be better communicators but they are not always aware of it. They are often under the impression that their expectations and goals 'trickle down' to their staff. However, this is not usually the case, and many employees are left without a clear idea of what they are working towards. 

Try asking your manager for the information you should be receiving, but be diplomatic. This need not be an unpleasant experience. Most managers will be glad that you want to have a clearer idea of the company and where you fit into it.  It's often best to schedule a proper meeting and to explain why you’d like to meet and what you are hoping to achieve. If your productivity improves as a result of this communication, your manager will be happy and may learn a useful lesson about managing people.

Address issues relating to workload

Scheduling a meeting with your manager should probably be your first move, whatever problem you're experiencing. This is particularly true if your boss is making unrealistic demands on you. If this is the case, it's probably because he or she is unaware of what you're working on. Explain the projects you have, together with a time estimate for each, and ask your manager to help you prioritise.

You'd be surprised how many managers don't know what an employee's role requires, let alone their day-to-day work. This can be very damaging to morale. If you're feeling unsupported by your manager, bear in mind that he or she may not be aware of what your role entails. If you think that this might be the case, ask your manager to set you some goals. At the very least, this will be a good starting point for establishing his or her perceptions of what you do every day.

Is your manager listening?

Bad listening skills are often cited as an annoying trait of managers. It's not that they don't communicate, rather that the communication is one sided. In this case, it is important that you plan what you are going to talk about before the meeting. Don’t leave the meeting until you have said what you want to say and feel it’s been heard. It may help to prepare notes, which you can refer to during the meeting. This will show you have considered the meeting and areas of discussion. Providing your boss with a copy of these notes prior to the meeting is a good way to advise them of what you would like to discuss, it will be a good sign if he/she takes the time to read it.

Adapt or leave

What if, despite your efforts, nothing changes? In this case, if you really want to stay where you are, you will have no choice but to adapt.

David McClelland, the most influential twentieth century researcher and writer on motivation (Motives, Personality and Society 1984, Human Motivation 1987), identified three major motivators: affiliation, power and achievement. Observe your manager and mirror their primary motivator (we all have all three in differing amounts) and you will get on his/her wavelength. So if your boss is motivated by achievement, people issues will be a low priority but targets will be high on the priority list. If their major driver is affiliation, you need to think in people terms. If power is their major driver, be very careful.

However, getting on your manager's wavelength will often require you to make huge adaptations. Are you willing to learn different techniques and prioritise things that don't come naturally to you? Only you can make that decision. It can sometimes be easier to get another job than another working style. Sticking it out in a situation like this could damage your self-confidence.