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

Allison Kade

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 more 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 result 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 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 and, fine, 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 pm, 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 also speaks to the fact that you are a capable enough employee 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 to yourself what your boss’s and the company’s style is. 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 balls 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 would 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 dissected from her mean statement, and throw out the rest of the words.
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  • Marla @ 180turning30

    What a great article! I especially like the last section – good to use in both professional and personal life. Thank you!

    • Allison Kade

      Thanks, Marla! I appreciate it. :-)

    • Emilia

      I agree! And I didn’t even think of the personal life parallel!

      I have quite a bit of rewiring to do thanks to toxic arrangements for 4+ years…and that last part made me really recognize that perhaps this is what my boss may be suggesting, though in a seemingly cruel way…it’d be nice if everyone curbed their meanness…

  • Ashley Burton

    I know I have been struggling with this as I have a new position in a company I have been working for for over 2 years…this was some really great feedback! I will have to be more aware of my actions now!

  • LP

    This was a great reminder that we may not be able to change our coworkers but we can change our reaction to them. Sometimes the frustration and anger just empowers them even more. This was good stuff!!!

  • rt

    The worst fucker as a manager is ERIC MARLIN FROM MACYS IN SF. This jerk uses his position to abuse employees sexually harassing them.

  • biscuits

    why are most of the pronouns for “bad boss” in this article she/her? Something to think about. I’ve had one bad female boss and one bad male boss…they both did the same thing.

    • Emilia

      Because women are PMS’ing! HAAA HAHA! And very emotional in nature.

      Nah, I’m sure there’s more to it than that…I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who noticed.