8 Things Your Boss Won't Tell You (But Wishes You Knew)
Have you ever noticed that when people are promoted to a management position, their whole perspective on workplaces issues often changes? That’s because, as managers, they see things that they might not have been exposed to as employees. As a result, they view workplace questions through a different lens than the one they used before.
Understanding that shift in perspective can help you get along better with your boss, have more insight into her actions and decisions, and even perform your job better. But most managers won’t give their staff a crash course in how they think, so you’re often stuck having to figure it out for yourself. Want to speed up that process? Here are eight things your manager probably wishes you knew but isn’t likely to tell you.
1. Your Attitude Matters Almost as Much as Your Work
You might think that if you do great work, that’s all that matters—but attitude and interpersonal skills can matter a great deal. Healthy organizations have low tolerance for difficult personalities, in part because managing a team can be exhausting, and it gets significantly harder when a team member is resistant to feedback, difficult to work with, or just plain unpleasant.
If you complain frequently, regularly shoot down ideas, or act like the office prima donna, your boss probably considers you a pain to deal with, even if she never says so. That could result in you getting less interesting work assignments, less flexibility, lower raises, and a higher chance of ending up at the top of the list if cuts ever need to be made—yes, even if your work product is stellar. To be clear, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t speak up if you disagree or are unhappy; good managers value input. But if you find yourself resisting more projects than you embrace or if you get feedback that you’re coming across as negative or combative rather than constructive, there’s a problem. Speaking of which...
2. You Can Disagree—if You Go About it the Right Way
Good bosses want to hear when you have a different take on a project, or how realistic a deadline is, or the best way to deal with a difficult client—but you need to be emotionally intelligent about how you present your input. In fact, when I’ve heard people complain that their managers don’t welcome dissent or feedback, it’s nearly always been because they’ve been offering that dissent or feedback in the wrong way.
The key is to present your stance calmly and unemotionally—similarly to how you might if you were a consultant observing a situation, rather than like someone with a strong emotional stake in the outcome. Tone is really crucial here; it can be the difference between sounding like a collaborative partner in solving a business problem and sounding like a frustrated adversary. “I’m concerned by the number of errors I’m catching in the other team’s drafts and wonder if we need to give them better guidelines” will go over a lot better than “I’m sick of having to fix Beth’s errors all the time.”
And no matter the issue, you’ll get the best results if you frame the conversation in a way that demonstrates that you understand that in the end, your boss will make the final call—and that you’re willing to go along with it even if it’s different from yours.
3. Feeling Micromanaged? There Might Be a Reason
Before you get defensive, hear me out. There absolutely are chronic, incorrigible micromanagers out there who will helicopter over employees no matter how competent they are. But it’s also true that some managers kick into micromanaging gear when you’ve given them reason to doubt if they can trust you and your work otherwise. If you’ve been dropping the ball, forgetting details of projects, not following up on things, missing deadlines or producing work that requires a lot of changes from others, a good manager would get more closely involved—because ultimately her job is to ensure that the work is done well.
But when people are being micromanaged, they rarely ask, “What have I done that might be inspiring this scrutiny from my boss?” Instead, they just get annoyed by it, which prevents them from being able to take action that could change it.
4. We Don’t Remember Everything You’re Doing, and That’s Okay
Have you ever gotten annoyed when your manager appears to have forgotten details of your work that you explicitly discussed with her earlier? Ever wondered why she can’t seem to keep track of the important work you’re involved in?
The reality is that managers have to remember all the details of their own work, plus the basics of what a whole team of people are doing, so it doesn’t make sense to get irked if you need to remind them of context or a key detail. It doesn’t mean that your manager doesn’t care about your work; rather, the reality is it’s not practical or even possible to keep tabs on what every employee is doing every day.
This also means that you shouldn’t resent it if you need to remind your boss before your December performance review of what you achieved back in February. You’re generally going to know more about the details of your performance than she does.
5. Feedback’s Meant to Help You, Even When it’s Hard to Hear
It can sting to hear what you’re not doing well enough, but imagine if your manager never bothered to tell you: You wouldn’t progress in your career or get merit raises, and you might wonder why others are getting better assignments and promotions while you’re passed over. Managers (most of them, anyway) don’t give feedback to make you feel bad or put you down; they do it because they want you to do well at your work—both for the company’s sake and your own.
That’s why it’s especially tough as a manager to encounter a staff member who becomes defensive or closed-off in response to feedback. It’s like watching someone deliberately cut off her own opportunities to become better at what she does and to get rewarded for it.
If you struggle to take feedback calmly, remember that you’re not in a courtroom and don’t need to defend yourself; what your manager really wants to hear is that you’re processing her feedback and will incorporate it into your work. That might sound like this: “I’m glad you’re telling me this. I’ll do X and Y going forward to address it.”
6. Your Emotions Affect Your Credibility
When your emotions color your judgment, it makes you less credible. Everyone gets frustrated at work at times, but your boss will notice if you stay calm, rational, and objective, even under stress. You’ll have more credibility if you assess people and ideas honestly, even if you have a personal dislike for them. As a result, you’ll find that your opinion will be taken more seriously, you’ll get the benefit of the doubt in he-said/she-said situations, and, often, potentially contentious situations will go more smoothly.
Moreover, if you get upset or offended when getting feedback on your work, you’ll be making it hard (and painful) for your boss to do her job. Even worse, she might start avoiding giving you important feedback that you need to hear. You need to know what your boss thinks you could be doing better, and you’re more likely to hear it if you make it easy for her to tell you.
7. Sometimes Other People Get Special Treatment for a Reason
If you’ve ever found yourself wondering why Jane gets to work from home on Fridays but your boss won’t consider telecommuting for you, or why Bob doesn’t have to turn in the onerous weekly reports your boss requires for you, consider that it might be for good reason. Maybe Jane has a standing medical appointment on Fridays and your boss isn’t going to discuss her confidential medical situation with others. Maybe Bob’s work is so stellar that your manager decided she didn’t need the same level of reporting from him as from others. It’s often quite reasonable for managers to treat different employees differently—because of medical or family care situations, because of performance, or because of other issues that might never show up on your radar.
And while a good manager will explain it if the disparity is linked to performance, you’re probably not going to hear the reason if it’s something private, like a medical situation. If you want to ask for a perk, you’re better off basing the argument on your own merits and leaving comparisons to colleagues out of it.
8. We Want You to Ask for Help When You Need It
Most managers want to hear when you’re struggling, whether it’s with a particular problem on a project, a difficult client or an overwhelming workload. Some of my most frustrating moments as a manager have come when I’ve learned that someone was struggling and didn’t think they should come to me for help, and instead just suffered silently—or even let problems worsen because they didn’t speak up.
Don’t hide your problems in the hopes that they won’t be noticed—speak up when you’re struggling and ask for advice. Good managers will welcome it.
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Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of How To Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager and Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results, and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, including hiring and firing.