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Traveling Down A Two-Way Street: 10 Tips To Better Manage Professional Relationships

Perception: offering input, feedback, suggestions, and/or direction to the person responsible for your career well-being can be scary.  Afterall, likely every one of us has somebody that oversees our work, who is expected to keep us focused, and who has responsibility for maximizing our output for business results.  Some may refer to this person as their leader, manager, boss, or perhaps coach. 

Reality: they too are a human who also has someone directing and inspecting their output.  In this people chain of responsibility and accountability, each member has the opportunity to bring something meaningful to the relationship party. 

Why then is it so very challenging to provide perspective and/or inquire about guiding actions that could make a difference?  Perhaps a few of these may be good conversation openers to a more dynamic, detailed and directional meeting with your leader:

  • It would be really helpful if you could explain…again.

  • Could we walk through that report together, so I can better understand…

  • I do best when you share your screen (or sit with me); could we look at…as a reference?

  • Last time I did…It didn’t land well.  I’d like to show you, so you can weigh in.

  • I am genuinely giving it my all, but I am not satisfied with my outcome; do you think I need more training on...?

  • Can you provide some examples of ways I could improve my…

  • I’d like your input about an issue I am having; can we walk through…together?

  • When you do…, how do you approach it?

  • What is one way that I could practice…best?

Candidly, it likely comes down to a few factors that hold us back from effectively managing our manager to yield our best success.  Below are some areas that may trip up progress for even the most established working duo:

  1. Has a trusting relationship been established in the first place?  It can feel daring to seek permission, but most likely, all that is necessary is to inquire if you can bring ideas to the leader’s attention.  Relationships are built by establishing consistent rapport, demonstrating trustworthiness and even in the toughest moments operating with integrity.

  2. Is there a standing window of time when work can be reviewed constructively?  If someone has to interrupt the workday and create an event to provide feedback, there is already a barrier imposed.  Work on setting up a standing1-1 meeting that is accompanied by an agenda. Send the agenda in advance so everyone knows what will be brought up.  Having a standing time together ensures the meeting becomes a valuable ritual instead of a burden.

  3. Has the leader been deemed credible?  Do you believe their input would be valuable in the first place? If your coach is someone who has great wisdom and needs to be coaxed to comment or share it, let them know you noticed their acumen. Communicating what expertise or experience you believe they possess is a huge compliment.  By observing that and letting them know it matters, you are reinforcing your interest in hearing more.

  4. Are you doing your homework? Coming ready to each meeting with well thought-out questions, challenging situations, and scenarios to unpackage is the very best way to get insight and maximize your joint time.  Using real or planned-for examples will make any feedback tangible and easy to call upon for applied learning.  Afterwards, follow-up to let your leader know how the scenario or plan turned out IRL.

  5. Do you offer compliments and appreciation? We respond to positive affirmations and if you want more of what you are seeing, the best way is to call it out. Take a few moments to send a thank you note for their time or to mention in a meeting that a recent feedback call led to a big win. We fuel more productive conversations if we refer back to ones that were impactful and made a difference.

  6. Are you a good citizen and helpful contributor?  Do you make it easy to receive feedback or are you prone to get defensive? If there is unnecessary friction, excuse-making, or drama when opportunities for improvement are raised, then your leader may be hesitant to bring it to your attention. Take a personal inventory of what your reactions resemble to ensure you are encouraging a repeat performance.  Your coach may be reluctant to deliver certain messages if they anticipate that you will be “hot” and resistant to hearing it.

  7. Is there a pervasive atmosphere of finger-pointing? If you are in a culture or within a department that is notorious for passing blame or not tolerating mistakes, it may not realistically feel safe for either party to share genuine feedback without fear of retaliation.  In that scenario there really needs to be an evaluation if the hurdle imposed relates to the leader or the overall climate of the organization. Extra foundational work may be needed upfront before true candor can be expressed.

  8. Are you testing the waters with smaller, less impactful topics? Perhaps consider a trial run with a minor idea that you would like to run by them.  Some topics are more emotionally charged, and you want your leader to feel favorable about commenting.  Calling their attention to how much you value their input and how it has had a lasting effect in the past may open the door to safely offering future feedback.

  9. Do you read the temperature before soliciting input? Observe body language for cues that the person is in a reasonably neutral state and that they have sufficient time to not be rushed.  If they are distracted or clearly already preoccupied, it may not be a healthy conversation window.  If we are asking our boss to disrupt their routine or to spend more time giving more direct suggestions, we need make sure they are not on a tight deadline or expected to be at a meeting right after — ask how much time is available upfront and solicit confirmation that now is good time to discuss or review X.

  10. Are you routinely demonstrating a willingness to be flexible and learning minded? By being an active learner, your leader will understand that you seek to keep growing, are interested in being challenged, and value chances to up your game.  Introduce new articles, podcasts, books into the discussion and be a great sharer of what you learn.  Reference circumstances where you tried new skills out and how you fared. This opens the door to more openness to try new things. Bonus: Is there congruence between what each party says they are going to do and actually doing it? We each need to demonstrate that our actions are carried out in a manner that is consistent with our intentions.  When someone is “all talk”, the willingness to invest time and resources fades fast.  However, a curious, effortful, and action-oriented learner is someone for whom any great coach is willing to stretch their own skills.

We can yield the best version of our leaders if we set the stage for them to better support our career ambitions. In any relationship, the saying “you teach others how to treat you” is prime wisdom.  While they may be a rockstar at their duties, they realistically are not mind-readers; the key is to guide them on what you need with specificity (by example, using the Start, Stop, Go concept is a great way to frame the discussion).  Most likely, they believe you are getting what you need or do not realize that opportunities are being left on the table.  Bringing direct, supportive candor into the relationship and exploring the best use of time spent together can lead to fantastic feedback for career growth.

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