“He didn’t wish me ‘good morning.’” “He brought in Starbucks for my co-worker and not me.” “He generally scowls and grunts if I ask a question.” “The only time he comes near my desk is to go to the printer and grab some papers.”
In other words: “I think my manager hates me, and it’s only week one.”
If you relate to this, the good news is that you’ve most likely misinterpreted you manager’s actions. And with some inside perspective, I can help you understand the situation and develop strategies to work successfully with your manager.
Get to Know What’s Up
I find new hires with relatively little business experience often misread situations because they’re completely unaware of what their leaders are going through. Perhaps their managers are overloaded with work. Maybe they’re dealing with an employee who’s not pulling his or her weight, which means more work for others (stressful) and having difficult conversations with the under-performer (more stressful). Perhaps, even, they’re under pressure to stay within budget and deliver on some items that may not be as easy as higher-ups think.
On top of all this, managers are expected to:
- Follow, publicize, and enforce new policies.
- Keep employees motivated and engaged — often without the budget to increase salaries or reward high performers.
- Keep colleagues in adjacent departments accountable, especially when those colleagues miss deadlines their direct reports depend on.
- Train and on-board direct reports. (Often, current managers didn’t receive any managerial training of their own!)
- Stay on top of a never-ending inbox — and respond to emails in a timely manner.
It’s important to consider, too, that managers are regular people. They have lives outside of work and most likely struggle to balance their families with their busy work schedules. They also aren’t immune to insecurities and imposter syndrome. Plenty of managers doubt their abilities and qualifications and put unnecessary pressure on themselves to be perfect.
Your manager may be just trying to survive — and that has nothing to do with you. You’re seeing stress, tremendous focus, and someone pushing hard to get more done with less. So what’s your response?
Your objectives should be:
- Help your manager get more work done.
- Reduce his or her stress.
- Make your manager’s life easier by helping him or her lead you.
Offering Your Support
Here are five action steps you can take:
- Remain cheerful. Remember everything your manager is going through and don’t take it personally. Keep a positive attitude and look for ways to break the tension. Get your manager to talk about a favorite hobby, for example, to facilitate a mental break and to build a bridge. The ability to alleviate tension and lighten a situation is a gift. (The Positivity Strength comes in here, as does Woo or Relator.)
- Be proactive. Look for ways that you can lighten your manager’s workload. Offer your help. When he or she assigns a project, ask how that content will be used and give it to him or her in a format that reduces additional work. For example, if you’re asked to compile data for a larger report, offer to write that section or create a table. Don’t just hand over the raw data — as you’ll create another task for your manager to do.Similarly, don’t wait for your manager to ask for status updates on projects. Check in at least once per week to let your manager know what you’ve accomplished and where you might need more resources or support.
- Build a resource network. Don’t depend on your manager for all the answers. Get to know your peers and see how you can learn from them. Remember, it’s always best to try to solve a problem yourself first before asking — within a reasonable period of time, of course. Find people who work in the same or similar roles or those who have been with the company for a while. Ask them for other resource recommendations. Most jobs are completed collectively these days. Afterward, thank your colleagues for their time.
- Ask for what you need to shorten your learning curve. Everyone has different learning styles, so get to know yours so you can learn better and faster. For example, if you need to know the big picture before proceeding, ask for it. If you prefer to learn by doing versus seeing, speak up!
- Compile questions to minimize interruptions. We all have questions when we start a project, but there’s nothing worse than a barrage of emails (read that as “interruptions”) that could’ve been consolidated into one. As you work, write your questions down, then ask them all at once. That might mean several batches of questions, but that’s better than many throughout the day. And don’t just rely on text-based communication.
Often, a short phone call or in-person chat is faster than waiting for an email response. Before shooting off that email, ask yourself: Is this the most efficient way for us to communicate? If you have more questions after emailing back and forth, it’s time to pick up the phone. You’ll set yourself apart by not relying on email.
No two managers are the same. Depending on their strengths, some have no idea how others perceive them. It’s also possible that no one told them the importance of establishing good relationships at work. So keep plugging away, and you’ll see progress. My hope is you’ll remember this experience and use it to inform your own management style someday.
Your challenge: Pick three things on the list above to try this coming week.