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Eight Steps For Maximizing Your Relationship With Your Manager

By Ken Wagner, Ph.D.

Leaders have long been encouraged to empower and engage the people around them. But usually it’s talked about as a one-way approach – the leader as the provider and the employee as the recipient. What if there was a reciprocal strategy on the part of the employee to further capitalize on the empowering approach the leader provides? In other words, what’s the analogous work-smarter-not-harder response for the employee in this situation?

Facemask employee talking to manager (1)

To answer this question, consider the following scenario. If your organization were to adopt a flat, horizontal structure tomorrow, how would your relationship with your manager change? What would you do differently? What could you gain?

You might feel an elevated sense of responsibility and ownership. You may also view your manager as less of a gate keeper and more as a colleague with their own set of accountabilities and responsibilities.

Think about how this can strengthen the relationship with your manager. Working to strengthen the relationship can make it easier to act as an expert of your area, make recommendations and push back when appropriate. You’re working more as a confidant –to help your manager accomplish goals by proactively expressing agreement and/or concerns and providing alternative options and recommendations without fear or reservation.

This is the reciprocal approach that employees can take in response to empowering supportive leaders and it is possible to do this in a hierarchical, vertical structure.

What is the Employee's Role In Positively Influencing Their Manager?

Managers, it turns out, are people just like you and me. They respond to consequences in the same way as everyone else. When barriers are removed, behaviors are clearly identified, feedback is connected, and reinforcement is present, managers will continue to do the things that work well for them.

So, as we strive to positively influence our manager, we must answer a few questions about our role in the relationship:

How can I make it easier for my manager to seek out ways to support me, to find opportunities for me, and to ensure that I am moving towards my professional goals?

How do I demonstrate that his/her efforts are making a difference?

How do I communicate in a way that sets him/her up for success?

What can I do to establish myself as a reinforcer?

 

Broadly speaking, the tactics that tend to have the most influence are:

  • Removing obstacles and reducing effort
  • Filtering information
  • Closing feedback loops
  • Reinforcing behaviors that help you
  • Contributing to team and individual successes
  • Demonstrating trust and respect

What Can You Do To Strengthen The Relationship With Your Manager?

How can you apply these tactics to strengthen your relationship with your manager? Here are eight easy things you can do:

1. Make requests clear and direct.

Ask for what you need; be specific and objective in your requests. Avoid generalizations and vague language. Don’t expect your manager to “just know” what you want. This includes your professional development needs. Articulate what you need your manager to do, so it’s easier for them to act.

2. Close the feedback loop; Tell your manager what happened when you acted on his/her advice.

This encourages him/her to offer advice in the future. Tell him/her what you did, how it worked, what you learned, and what you’ll do next time. In this way, you’re making it easier for your manager to learn what works specifically for you.

3. Recommend and collaborate. Don’t ask and follow.

Before seeking help, do your research and develop a first draft. Describe your plan and seek sign-off, rather than asking your manager to generate a solution. It’s easier for him/her to respond to information, than to produce it. This demonstrates thoughtfulness and respect for their time and willingness to take initiative. Ultimately, this will likely work in your favor.

4. Share information and your intentions early. 

Avoid surprises! Align on activities so you are in sync, and so he/she is prepared to answer questions from his/her manager. You’re a team; Act like one.

5. Make it easy to assist you. 

Reduce the effort involved in helping. This includes highlighting information that needs his/her attention and pointing out information that might be misunderstood without context. Similarly, limit the time and effort required for logistics, searching, and researching.

6. Initiate more frequent, brief interactions.

These are more productive than less-frequent, lengthy interactions. These allow for more calibration and collaboration and typically strengthen your connection.

7. Try to understand your manager’s accountabilities and responsibilities.

Consider how those accountabilities or goals support or conflict with your own needs. When it’s unclear, ask. Recognize that he/she has deliverables, personal time, performance targets, and professional goals, as well. Coordinate so you can both accomplish goals together.

8. Demonstrate “listening to understand."

Active listening means communicating with your words and actions that you have absorbed the intended message. Asking relevant questions, paraphrasing, and acknowledging feelings when expressed, are effective behaviors to show this.


Imagine the benefits of a flat organization-greater adaptability, increased productivity and quality, quicker decision making, improved operational efficiency and exceptional customer service. The consistent thread that ties all these outcomes together is a positive, collaborative manager-employee relationship. Thankfully, you can play an active role in building the kind of relationship with your manager that will provide higher job satisfaction and a better quality of work life for you.

Topics: Behavior

Ken Wagner, Ph.D.

Written by Ken Wagner, Ph.D.