You’re buttoning the last button on your coat, having completed everything on your to-do list for today. You and your friends have planned a fun dinner out to catch up, and you’ve been looking forward to it all week. Just as you’re grabbing your bag to head out, your phone buzzes with an email you immediately regret opening:

Jane, I finally have some revisions to the deck you sent me last week. I know it’s last minute, but please take a look and send a revised version to me as soon as possible. I’d like to send it off to the client later tonight.

Are you kidding me, you ask yourself, seething as you realize you have no choice but to bail on dinner.

You did your part! On time! But none of that matters now that you’re stuck answering to your boss when the office has emptied out.

You may have managed yourself, but you didn’t manage your boss, and that’s where things can get unwieldly. Managing up isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible either, and learning the ropes of it will make you happier at work.

Ahead, five things you need to have a handle on if you want your boss to trust you (and if you want to leave the office at a sane hour).

1. Know What’s Expected

When you get a frustrating email request from your boss, you've got to figure out your next move, and determining that should be based on your manager’s expectations: Is answering him something that must happen ASAP, or can it wait three hours without another frenetic email? Not only do you need to have a strong understanding of what your supervisor considers urgent—whether or not he has stated it as such—but you have to know what’s worked in the past and what’s been deemed unacceptable. (And, of course, if the demands seem unreasonable, you should find another time to address your concerns.)

2. Know Her Pet Peeves

You’ve got them—and so does your boss. Does your manager hate getting an email that requires a response after a certain hour? Is she bothered by the fact that you store up questions instead of asking them as they come to you? Maybe she resents the fact that you gently remind her about getting back to you on a project when she has it on her list.

No matter how off-the-wall her pet peeves seem, the smart thing to do is commit them to memory and try your hardest not to be the one responsible for irritating her with little things that can easily be avoided. The happier she is with you, the more likely she will be flexible and open to your schedule and ideas.

3. Know His Schedule and Priorities

Your boss has demands, a schedule to follow, and priorities of his own. It’s part of your job to know what all that entails. Who or what is pulling him in different directions? What are his deadlines? Who is he answering to? The more you know about your supervisor, and what’s going on for him, the better prepared you’ll be for putting out a fire when one flares up or navigating a situation that at first glance seems unmanageable.

For example, if you know he has a big presentation coming up on Thursday, ducking out of the office a half hour earlier than usual to hit the gym the night before probably isn’t a brilliant plan.

4. Know Her Preferred Communication Method

Good communication is key in all relationships, and this quality is no less important when it comes to your boss. You can begin understanding your supervisor’s language by asking yourself how she likes to receive information—in person, via email, over text? And how and when? Does she wake up early to sort through things before the regular workday begins? Does she commute home on a train and catch up on items then? The goal is to make the path for delivering the information as easy for her as possible. That way, she can focus on the content or issue rather than the potentially distracting mode (e.g., sending her a chat message after hours when email is preferable).


5. Know When to Bring Up Potential Issues

Don’t wait until there’s a problem. Remind your manager when you have a vacation coming up. Be clear about important dinner plans or the fact that you have concert tickets. If you have a priority that will take precedence over his needs, like your grandma's 90th birthday party, give him some notice so that he doesn’t end up putting a big project on your plate hours before you need to be somewhere. And better yet, figure out if he’s the type to need both an early heads-up as well as a day-of reminder.

If your boss feels looped in and aware of any major things you’ve got going on outside of the office, it’s unlikely that you’ll have to deal with last-minute asks. This goes both ways though—don’t wait until the night before your manager is going on a family vacation to ask for feedback on your presentation.


Following these guidelines won’t guarantee everything will always go smoothly, but it will significantly increase the chances of it. Your relationship with your boss is an ongoing one, and every manager is different. Do your best to comprehend his or her work habits, pet peeves, and expectations so that your day-to-day is less stressful. In the end, learning to manage up will only help you when the time comes for you to take on a leadership role.

Photo of woman reading email on phone courtesy of Shutterstock.

Updated 6/19/2020