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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Ask a Candid Boss: How Do I Play Nice With the Other Managers at Work?

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Dear Boss,

How can I work more effectively with managers in other divisions or teams without causing conflicts or political issues?

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Dear Why Can’t We All Just Get Along,

This is a tough situation to navigate for many managers, and the best way to do it is to focus on building relationships. Here are some rules of thumb to make sure that you’re treating your peers well while still getting things done on your own team.

1. Resolve Conflicting Priorities Directly

Your priorities and those of your colleagues can sometimes feel like a zero-sum game. You both need resources, and there are only so many to go around.

One of the best ways to improve your relationship with your peers—and also with your boss—is to work together to figure out a fair allocation, rather than delegating those sorts of decisions upwards.

2. Deliver Bad News Early

Oftentimes other managers within the company are relying on you to deliver something. When the news isn’t good, it’s tempting to delay the inevitable conversation and to hope for a miracle.

In reality, miracles rarely happen—and the sooner you deliver the bad news, the more time and flexibility you give your peers to find any necessary workarounds. Delivering bad news early leads to a hard conversation, but delivering bad news late harms your credibility and does enormous damage to your relationships.

3. Ask For Help When It’s Needed (and Be Willing to Return the Favor)

It can feel like a blow to your pride to ask for help, but that’s the wrong way to look at it. When you ask for assistance, you’re asking somebody to invest in your success and you are implicitly showing that you’ll be willing to reciprocate when needed. Being there for others—and allowing them to be there for you—builds trust.

4. Avoid “Poaching”

Occasionally, one of your peer’s direct reports might want to leave his or her current team and join yours. How you handle this can make or break your relationship with your colleague.

Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of both you and that other manager to create good situations for your employees, so if somebody wants to transfer, neither of you should block it. But, you should handle the transition in an orderly and responsible way so you don’t leave the other one in the lurch.

As soon as someone approaches you about joining your team, let her know that she should talk to her boss about how to make that change—and then you should follow up immediately. Don’t just present your peer with a fake option.

5. Give Feedback Directly

When you have critical feedback for the direct report of another manager, it’s best to deliver it directly to that employee rather than via his or her supervisor (delivering secondhand feedback is an awkward situation for anyone).

If you’re concerned that your peer will reasonably feel cut out of the loop, tell the person you’re offering feedback to that you are going to relay that conversation to his or her boss.

Similarly, if you have feedback specifically for your colleague, you also need to have that conversation directly. Running to the boss with your criticisms can feel like backstabbing.

6. Shift Out of “Enemy Combatant Mode”

Focus on what you do like about working with your peers. Often, we treat our work equals like enemy combatants. Take a moment to see your colleagues as fellow human beings.

Ask them about their weekends. Tell them a funny story from your night out. Share something you like about working with them—but don’t say anything you don’t genuinely feel. Insincere praise creates a political environment.

Co-existing peacefully with other managers can be a challenge at times, particularly when you have conflicting viewpoints or priorities. But, I hope these tips help you enjoy your work—and the people you work with!

This article is part of our monthly Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our coaches are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask a Candid Boss in the subject line.

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