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No. 2 – My boss doesn’t listen. Is ‘managing up’ my only option?

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24 February 2021

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a minute?” This week, a manager that doesn’t give others air time, a reference dilemma, and an over-sharing colleague.

My manager seems to get really stressed a lot of the time. In meetings, he constantly talks over the team making it hard to get a word in or provide an update. How do I raise this in a constructive way?

When I started my career, I naively assumed that for someone to be promoted to a management position they must also be a great leader. I learnt pretty quickly that was not always the case.

Your question has tapped into a skill we all need to understand which is known as “managing up”. It is an essential skill that you will find useful at every stage of your career.

In this case, your manager appears to lack some fairly basic skills of emotional intelligence such as self-awareness and the ability to self-regulate his emotions.

He seems to be very sure his opinions and decisions are correct and believes that he doesn’t need or want input from anyone else, including his own team. He may fear appearing vulnerable if he admits that he doesn’t have all the answers – and as a result feels the need to fill the space with his own perspectives.

Working for an overbearing and stressed-out boss can be demotivating, exhausting and hard work for everyone. This is where being able to “manage up” is so helpful.

Speaking up when your manager is dominating a meeting is going to have limited success. But there may be other times when he is calmer and does ask for ideas. After these interactions, I’d recommend speaking with him directly to let him know how well you think that particular meeting worked and how much you appreciated him asking for other opinions.

Essentially you are trying to encourage and influence him to see that when he asks for input, he gets a positive response. In order to have the biggest impact you will need to look for situations where you are able to speak up and help him to see that there is nothing to fear from asking for suggestions from his team.

If that fails perhaps ask your company whether they have 360-degree review surveys in place so you can offer feedback anonymously. Otherwise, if your company runs engagement surveys, you could comment that you don’t feel able to speak up in your team. This is really important for other leaders in your business to hear.

You never know, your feedback may end up leading to your manager receiving the support he needs to help address his leadership style which will ultimately benefit everyone.

A co-worker has asked me for a reference but I know he is leaving under a cloud and I feel conflicted. My boss seems to think we should provide one, but I think we are just moving the problem on to someone else. Any suggestions?

This is an easy one. Don’t do it. You should never give a reference if you don’t believe every word. In a nutshell, you need to be prepared to stake your reputation on this person.

Plus, a reference should definitely not be given to make it easier to transfer one bad apple to another orchard. If your boss feels strongly about the value of this person, and they think the person deserves a written reference, I would be suggesting to them that they would be best to write the reference themselves.

My colleague always quietly whispers ‘I need to do a poo’ each time she gets up to go to the toilet. She is otherwise a fantastic colleague and I have tried the ‘too much information!’ line but she just laughs. In fact, it’s got worse because now she will let me know if it was ‘a good one’ when she returns to her desk. What should I do?

If you happen to be reading this question because it has been circled and left on your desk by persons unknown, then this advice is clearly meant for you.

Your toddler days are done; your toileting news is absolutely, positively not something anyone is interested in hearing. Ever. What happens in the toilet, stays in the toilet.

Send your curly questions about work, career, leadership and anything in between to Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

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