Manage up without getting (too) salty about it

Originally posted Nov 1, 2022 • More resources on delivering feedback

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An attendee from one of my Delivering Feedback workshops asked:

I think the Feedback Equation we learned today could work well with my manager, but I’m concerned about implementing it.

One of my biggest fears about giving them feedback is their negative response to it, so tying it back to what’s important to him makes a lot of sense to me.

However, how would I use coaching/open questions without getting salty that I have to coach them through the situation? I don’t have power in the relationship and that makes me worried about how I will handle it if and when my manager gets negative.

Ooh, yes, this is a tricky one! It is completely reasonable to feel salty or annoyed about needing to coach your manager. When you value gathering feedback from your own direct reports and helping and ensuring they feel heard, you naturally want your own manager to care about (and do) this, too. I definitely have felt this frustration before!

Here’s how to navigate it:

First, give yourself twenty minutes of quiet brainstorming time, and jot down some notes answering these coaching questions:

… Okay, my coaching hat is now off, and my mentor hat is on :D

If your primary goal is to feel heard by your manager, then you’re right, using coaching questions might not be the most effective way to hit that goal—since the focus would be entirely on your manager and what he needs, not you. I wonder if other folks you’ve worked with have found success feeling heard by your manager, and if they could lend any advice there.

But my general perspective on this is: we all care about different things as managers, and we each see the role of a manager differently. I wrote about this a little bit in a previous newsletter about managing up. It can be tremendously frustrating when we don’t see eye-to-eye with our manager about what their role is; that’s why we build out that Voltron crew of support, to get the help we need to feel secure, seen, coached, or whatever it may be.

If our primary goal is to help our manager change/grow, or adapt the skills they use when we work together, then the Feedback Equation (with an impact that the person cares about, followed by coaching questions) is typically the most effective tool you have at your disposal. It can be frustrating, for sure; make sure you’ve got folks to process with and lean on about those frustrations, so they don’t boil over.

You deserve to feel seen and heard! And you deserve supportive folks who can get you what you need. Unfortunately, your manager may not be one of those folks.

I’ve been there

I don’t know if it helps at all to hear this story, but: I had a manager a decade ago who I did not see eye-to-eye with on what he should be doing as my manager. He was completely absent when I needed to fire someone for the first time and I had no idea what I was doing. He explicitly asked me to not share anything about how I was feeling in our 1:1s. This is antithetical to what I think management should be, so I found myself a new manager for a while! :)

A few years later I worked for him again, and even though I’d built up a supportive crew to lean on and despite not really needing his support in that way, I was yet again frustrated by his approach to management. I remember venting to my colleague about it, and she said, “Wait, but you know he’s bad at that stuff. You’ve known for years! This isn’t a surprise… So why are you still mad about it?” She was right; her question was enough of a shock to my system that it made me laugh. :)

That’s all to say that no matter how much we intellectually know that our manager might not be providing what we need, what we deserve, or what we think a manager should be doing… we’re still allowed to be frustrated by it. After all, something about our core needs is being unmet!

It’s part of the job

So I think it’s our job to routinely give feedback to our manager (and others) that has a chance of landing, and find ourselves a crew that gives us the kind of support we need to do that.

We can hope that in time, if we can nail the impact that our manager cares about, we can help them feel motivated to change and grow.

But in the meantime, it’s crucial to find that support elsewhere—and know it’s okay to be salty about it ;)

Woman speaking to camera with video player buttons underneathAiming to give feedback that they'll actually hear and take action on?

Check out my new Delivering Feedback video course to find exercises, tips, and homework to quickly level up your feedback skills. Or hire me to bring my feedback workshop to your organization!

Lara Hogan

Author, public speaker, and coach for managers and leaders across the tech industry.

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