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Manage Up to Give Feedback

Employees are often afraid of the most senior people in organizations, simply because of their titles. The better the title, the scarier people are. And if employees are scared of organizational leaders, they’re not going to give those leaders negative feedback. The most senior people in an organization get the least information of anyone.

No one likes to be told that he is wrong. Negative feedback tells the person he did something wrong. But there is more than one way to give feedback. Asking questions can be equally as effective as giving direct feedback.

If you want to give a senior person negative feedback, but you’re afraid of the consequences, manage up by asking more and saying less.

Here are some ways to manage up by asking questions:

Rather than saying, “I disagree, I think you’re wrong, or this is a mistake,” consider managing up by asking questions like:

  • We’ve chosen to invest a lot in this software. I wasn’t here when the software was chosen. What’s the history of this initiative?
  • What were the criteria for selection?
  • What are you concerned about?
  • What are you satisfied with?
  • What else have we tried?
  • What are your thoughts about…?
  • What if we tried…?

Asking questions gets the person involved in a discussion, during which you can eventually express your point of view. When you ask questions, you say very little, and definitely don’t call the person’s decision-making into question.

Human beings are wired for survival. Receiving negative feedback kicks the need to defend oneself into gear, hence why people become defensive when they receive negative feedback. Negative feedback calls survival into question. If you don’t want people to become defensive, don’t require them to defend themselves. A discussion, during which you ask questions, is much less threatening than overtly disagreeing with someone’s point of view.

Asking questions takes more time and more patience than giving direct feedback. But it also takes less courage, and the quality of your relationship doesn’t have to be as good. You need a pretty good relationship to give direct feedback. If you don’t have that relationship, manage up by asking questions instead of being so direct.

If you do choose to ask questions, watch your tone. If you can safely add the words “you dummy” to a question, you aren’t really asking a question, you’re giving feedback, which is likely to evoke the defensive response you’re seeking to avoid.

It’s important to be able to express your point-of-view at work. Staying in a job or organization in which you can’t speak up, doesn’t feel great and doesn’t leverage the best of what you have to offer. But if you’re concerned about giving direct feedback, manage up by asking questions.  Say less. Ask more.


Managing Up – Say Less. Ask More.

managing upI’m often asked, “Can I give my boss or the people above me feedback? Is that really realistic?” Giving people ‘above’ you feedback has everything to do with the quality of your relationship and less to do with the person’s title. If your relationship is good and your boss is open to feedback, then yes, you can practice the feedback formula with him/her. If your relationship isn’t that solid or your boss isn’t open to your feedback, practice managing up by asking for what you want instead of giving direct feedback.

No one likes to be criticized or told that s/he is wrong. When giving someone direct feedback, no matter how kind the delivery, you are telling someone, “You’re doing ______ wrong. Please do _____ instead.” Being that direct is challenging when you don’t have the best relationship or when people are highly defensive. You can achieve the same desired results by simply asking for what you want.

Asking for what you want is less judgmental than giving direct feedback and is a subtle way of telling someone s/he is not giving you what you need. And people who are paying attention will get that. They don’t need it spelled out.

Here are a few ways to practice managing up with your boss and other leaders in your organization:

Example One:

Giving Direct Feedback: “You don’t make time for me. I’m getting behind on projects because you don’t take the time to review my work.”

Managing Up by Asking: “How can we ensure you get to review my work each week, so I can finish the projects I’m working on?”

Example Two:

Giving Direct Feedback: “Every time we have a meeting scheduled, you cancel it.”

Managing Up by Asking: “If meetings get cancelled, is it ok if I reschedule them?

Example Three:

Giving Direct Feedback: “You’re a micromanager. I feel like I can’t make a move without your permission.”

Managing Up by Asking: “I’d like to manage ________ project. What do you need to feel comfortable with me doing that?”

Telling someone at any level s/he is doing something wrong, which will likely evoke defensiveness. And being direct requires both courage and a good relationship. If you don’t have the relationship to be so direct, simply ask for what you want.

managing up


Manage Up – Earning the Right to Give Feedback

You disagree with something someone above you said or did. How do you tell the person without actually telling him?manage up

Lots of people think they can’t give direct feedback when talking to someone at a higher level. I’m here to tell you that that’s not true. The ability to speak freely has little to do with titles and more to do with the quality of your relationship. When you’re comfortable with people and have mutual trust, you can say (almost) anything, regardless of titles and levels. But that’s not the true purpose of today’s blog. So I’m going to stick to the topic at hand –what to say when you feel like you can’t say very much.

When you don’t have the relationship to say what you really think, manage up by asking a question instead. Engage the person in a conversation. At some point during the conversation, you’ll be able to say what you think.

For example, you question a decision but don’t want to overtly say you question the decision.

Here’s how the conversation could go:

“I wasn’t involved in the conversations to select our new payroll software. Can you give me a little history? What had us choose our current provider?”

“What software features were important when selecting the software?”

“What problem were we trying to solve that drove the need to make a change?”

“What do you like about the software we picked? What don’t you like?”

** Obviously this is meant to be a discussion, not an interrogation. Ask one question at a time and see where the conversation goes. You may ask all of these questions and you may ask only one.

The point is to gather more information. Manage up by seeking to understand before you express an opinion. As the conversation progresses, you might see opportunities to express your point of view.

Here are three suggestions if you’re going to practice the technique of asking questions as a way to manage up and eventually give feedback:

1. When you ask a question, come from a place of genuine curiosity. If you aren’t truly curious and asking questions is just a technique you found in some blog, it will show.

2. Watch your tone of voice. If you can safely add the words “you dummy” to a question, you have a tone issue.

3. Be patient. Asking questions may feel easier than giving direct feedback, but it also takes more patience and time.

As the conversation progresses, you might be asked for your opinion. Before saying what you think, remember, no one likes to be told that s/he is wrong. And the person you’re talking to likely had a hand in making the decision you’re questioning. Be careful not to judge.

Instead of overtly judging, consider saying something like:

“I think the new system has potential and also has some limitations. Do you want feedback as we use the system and get to know it better?”

“What specifically would you like feedback on? What are you not looking for feedback on?”

“What’s the best way to provide input and to whom?”

You can speak more freely when you have the relationship to do so and have permission. Until you have both, earn the right to give feedback by asking questions from a place of genuine curiosity. And only provide your point of view when you’re asked and are certain you have all the information to defend your position.


Manage Up Better to Get More at Work

Fourteen years ago, during my annual performance review, my manager said, “You had a great year. You rolled out 18 new training programs and got more participation in those programs than we’ve ever seen in the past. But you’re all substance and no sizzle. You’re not good at sharing the work you’re doing, and as a result my boss doesn’t know enough about what you’re doing and to support a large raise for you, so I can’t even suggest one.”

Manage up

That happened to me ONCE, and I swore it would never happen again.

Too many people believe that if they do good work, the right people will notice and they will be rewarded appropriately. Part of this thinking is accurate. To be rewarded appropriately, you need to be doing good work. But the people in a position to reward you also need to know what you’re doing and the value you’re adding.

You need to find a way to share the value you’re providing without going over your boss’s head, sucking up, or alienating your coworkers.

Here are four ways to manage up while strengthening your business relationships:

Manage up tip number one: Ask your manager’s permission to send him a weekly update of what you accomplished during the week. This should be a one-page, easy-to-read, bulleted list of accomplishments or areas of focus.

Your boss is busy and most likely doesn’t follow you around all day. As a result, you need to let him know about the work you’re doing. Don’t make him guess.

Manage up tip number two: Periodically share what you’re doing with the people your manager works for and with. That can sound like, “I just wanted to share what my department is accomplishing. We’re really excited about it.” Ask your manager’s permission to do this and tell her why you want to do it (to ensure that the senior people in your organization are in-the-know about what your department’s accomplishments).

If you’re not sure who can impact your career and thus who you should inform about your work, ask your manager. She knows and will tell you, if you ask.

Manage up tip number three: Use the word “we” versus “I.” “We accomplished…..” “We’re really excited about….” Using the word “we” is more inclusive and makes you sound like a team player versus a lone ranger.

Manage up tip number four: If you work remotely and don’t see your coworkers and manager often, make sure you’re keeping people informed about what you’re doing. Likewise, if you work flexible hours – leave early, come in late, and work at night – people will assume you’re working fewer hours than them and will talk about it to whoever will listen. So while the hours you work shouldn’t be anyone’s business, people in organizations talk about stuff like this.

Don’t assume that people know what you’re doing or the value you’re adding to your organization. Instead, assume people have no idea and find appropriate ways to tell them. You are 100% accountable for your career.

Manage up


Managing Up – Ask More Questions at Work

There is way too much guessing at work.  You may find yourself thinking, “I’m going to miss this deadline. I wonder what the consequences will be?” Or perhaps, “She said she wanted input on this project. I wonder if she really meant that, and how much feedback is ok to provide?” Or maybe, “He asked for a proposal. Is he expecting something elaborate, or will a one-pager do?”Managing Up

We often don’t know what others are expecting from us, so we guess. The problem with guessing is that we may do more work than we actually need to, and not in the way the other person wants it. Even worse, when we don’t work according to others’ expectations, they aren’t likely to tell us. Instead, they tell others and make decisions about us that aren’t positive.

I’m a fan of asking lots and lots of questions, preferably at the beginning of anything new. Anticipate all that can happen, get in front of breakdowns, and set clear expectations by asking questions. The people who participate in training with me get an entire box of questions to ask. And the homework is to go ask more questions of the people they work most closely with.  Asking questions will always be easier than recovering from violated and often unstated expectations.

If you want fewer breakdowns and frustrations at work, ask the following questions of the people you work with:

Managing up question one:  What do you want to do, on this project, and what do you want me to do?

Managing up question two:  What does a good job look like?

Managing up question three:  What will be different in the organization when this project is finished?

Managing up question four:   How would I frustrate you and not even know it?

Managing up question five:   How often do you want to receive updates from me?

Managing up question six:  Do you want to receive all the details or just big picture information?

Managing up question seven:  Do you want to receive the information in bullet form or paragraphs?

It’s never too late to ask questions like these. It’s ideal to ask the question at the beginning of a piece of work. But asking in the middle or even towards the end is fine too. People will appreciate that you asked, whenever you ask.

Ask more. Assume less. Suffering is optional at work.

Candor questions


Know Your Reputation; Manage Your Career

career management

At some point, you’ll get passed over for a promotion, project, or piece of work, and no one will tell you why. Why should they? There is little incentive to deal with your likely (human and normal) defensive response. It’s easier to say nothing.

The problem is that this lack of information gives you no ability to manage your career.

Most people get almost no feedback at work. “Good job” isn’t feedback. Neither is, “You seem distracted.” And being told, “You just weren’t the right fit,” is utterly unhelpful.

If you want to manage your career, you need more information. Getting this information might seem scary. You might be thinking, “What if I don’t want to hear what people have to say? What happens if I hear something really bad?” People are so hesitant to give feedback, they’ll be ‘nice’ to you. You won’t hear anything you can’t handle.

There are people in your life who will tell you the impression you create, what you’re like to work with, and why you might not have gotten a job you really want. They’ll tell you, if you ask and make it safe to tell you the truth. Making it safe means you can’t defend yourself. No matter what the person says and how hard it may be to hear, you must respond with, “Thank you for telling me that,” even if you’re convinced they’re wrong.

The easier it is to give you feedback, the more feedback you’ll get. The harder it is to give you feedback, the less you’ll get. Remember, no one wants to deal with your defensive response. It’s easier to say nothing.

Identify five people in your life who care about you, who you trust. They might work with you now, but perhaps not. Don’t overlook your friends, family, spouse and past co-workers. Tell each person, individually, that you want to know more about the impression you make and what you’re like to work/interact with. Do this over the phone or in-person. Emailing the request doesn’t demonstrate seriousness. Ask the person to schedule a conversation with you. Send your questions in advance, so the person is prepared. Have the scheduled meeting; don’t cancel it, even if something important comes up. Consider asking: The first impression you make; what you’re like to work/interact with; the best thing about you; and one change you could make. Say, “thank you,” for the information and not more. Don’t underestimate the power of your emotions. Everyone gets defensive when receiving feedback. Defensiveness can be off putting and scary to others. Don’t do anything to limit future feedback.

Ask these questions a few times a year. You don’t necessarily need to make any changes, based on what you learned. The point isn’t to act on the information, it’s merely to have it. Information is power, and power is control. You can now choose how to act vs. working in the dark.

What They Say When You’re Not There: Managing Your Reputation Training


Managing Up – Say Less. Ask More.

managing up I’m often asked, “Can I give my boss or the people above me feedback? Is that really realistic?” Giving people ‘above’ you feedback has everything to do with the quality of your relationship and less to do with the person’s title. If your relationship is good and your boss is open to feedback, then yes, you can practice the feedback formula with him/her. If your relationship isn’t that solid or your boss isn’t open to your feedback, practice managing up by asking for what you want instead of giving direct feedback.

No one likes to be criticized or told that s/he is wrong. When giving someone direct feedback, no matter how kind the delivery, you are telling someone, “You’re doing ______ wrong. Please do _____ instead.” Being that direct is challenging when you don’t have the best relationship or when people are highly defensive. You can achieve the same desired results by simply asking for what you want.

Asking for what you want is less judgmental than giving direct feedback and is a subtle way of telling someone s/he is not giving you what you need. And people who are paying attention will get that. They don’t need it spelled out.

Here are a few ways to practice managing up with your boss and other leaders in your organization:

 

Example One:

Giving Direct Feedback: “You don’t make time for me. I’m getting behind on projects because you don’t take the time to review my work.”

Managing Up by Asking: “How can we ensure you get to review my work each week, so I can finish the projects I’m working on?”

Example Two:

Giving Direct Feedback: “Every time we have a meeting scheduled, you cancel it.”

Managing Up by Asking: “If meetings get cancelled, is it ok if I reschedule them?

Example Three:

Giving Direct Feedback: “You’re a micromanager. I feel like I can’t make a move without your permission.”

Managing Up by Asking: “I’d like to manage ________ project. What do you need to feel comfortable with me doing that?”

Telling someone at any level s/he is doing something wrong, which will likely evoke defensiveness. And being direct requires both courage and a good relationship. If you don’t have the relationship to be so direct, simply ask for what you want.

managing up


Manage Up – Earning the Right to Give Feedback

Manage Up You disagree with something someone above you said or did. How do you tell the person without actually telling him?

Lots of people think they can’t give direct feedback when talking to someone at a higher level. I’m here to tell you that that’s not true. The ability to speak freely has little to do with titles and more to do with the quality of your relationship. When you’re comfortable with people and have mutual trust, you can say (almost) anything, regardless of titles and levels. But that’s not the true purpose of today’s blog. So I’m going to stick to the topic at hand –what to say when you feel like you can’t say very much.

When you don’t have the relationship to say what you really think, manage up by asking a question instead. Engage the person in a conversation. At some point during the conversation, you’ll be able to say what you think.

For example, you question a decision but don’t want to overtly say you question the decision.

Here’s how the conversation could go:

“I wasn’t involved in the conversations to select our new payroll software. Can you give me a little history? What had us choose our current provider?”

“What software features were important when selecting the software?”

“What problem were we trying to solve that drove the need to make a change?”

“What do you like about the software we picked? What don’t you like?”

** Obviously this is meant to be a discussion, not an interrogation. Ask one question at a time and see where the conversation goes. You may ask all of these questions and you may ask only one.

The point is to gather more information. Manage up by seeking to understand before you express an opinion. As the conversation progresses, you might see opportunities to express your point of view.

Here are three suggestions if you’re going to practice the technique of asking questions as a way to manage up and eventually give feedback:

1. When you ask a question, come from a place of genuine curiosity. If you aren’t truly curious and asking questions is just a technique you found in some blog, it will show.

2. Watch your tone of voice. If you can safely add the words “you dummy” to a question, you have a tone issue.

3. Be patient. Asking questions may feel easier than giving direct feedback, but it also takes more patience and time.

As the conversation progresses, you might be asked for your opinion. Before saying what you think, remember, no one likes to be told that s/he is wrong. And the person you’re talking to likely had a hand in making the decision you’re questioning. Be careful not to judge.

Instead of overtly judging, consider saying something like:

“I think the new system has potential and also has some limitations. Do you want feedback as we use the system and get to know it better?”

“What specifically would you like feedback on? What are you not looking for feedback on?”

“What’s the best way to provide input and to whom?”

You can speak more freely when you have the relationship to do so and have permission. Until you have both, earn the right to give feedback by asking questions from a place of genuine curiosity. And only provide your point of view when you’re asked and are certain you have all the information to defend your position.


Manage Up Better to Get More at Work

Fourteen years ago, during my annual performance review, my manager said, “You had a great year. You rolled out 18 new training programs and got more participation in those programs than we’ve ever seen in the past. But you’re all substance and no sizzle. You’re not good at sharing the work you’re doing, and as a result my boss doesn’t know enough about what you’re doing and to support a large raise for you, so I can’t even suggest one.”

Manage Up

That happened to me ONCE, and I swore it would never happen again.

Too many people believe that if they do good work, the right people will notice and they will be rewarded appropriately. Part of this thinking is accurate. To be rewarded appropriately, you need to be doing good work. But the people in a position to reward you also need to know what you’re doing and the value you’re adding.

You need to find a way to share the value you’re providing without going over your boss’s head, sucking up, or alienating your coworkers.

Here are four ways to manage up while strengthening your business relationships:

Manage up tip number one: Ask your manager’s permission to send him a weekly update of what you accomplished during the week. This should be a one-page, easy-to-read, bulleted list of accomplishments or areas of focus.

Your boss is busy and most likely doesn’t follow you around all day. As a result, you need to let him know about the work you’re doing. Don’t make him guess.

Manage up tip number two: Periodically share what you’re doing with the people your manager works for and with. That can sound like, “I just wanted to share what my department is accomplishing. We’re really excited about it.” Ask your manager’s permission to do this and tell her why you want to do it (to ensure that the senior people in your organization are in-the-know about what your department’s accomplishments).

If you’re not sure who can impact your career and thus who you should inform about your work, ask your manager. She knows and will tell you, if you ask.

Manage up tip number three: Use the word “we” versus “I.” “We accomplished…..” “We’re really excited about….” Using the word “we” is more inclusive and makes you sound like a team player versus a lone ranger.

Manage up tip number four: If you work remotely and don’t see your coworkers and manager often, make sure you’re keeping people informed about what you’re doing. Likewise, if you work flexible hours – leave early, come in late, and work at night – people will assume you’re working fewer hours than them and will talk about it to whoever will listen. So while the hours you work shouldn’t be anyone’s business, people in organizations talk about stuff like this.

Don’t assume that people know what you’re doing or the value you’re adding to your organization. Instead, assume people have no idea and find appropriate ways to tell them. You are 100% accountable for your career.

Manage Up


Manage Up to Give Feedback

Most employees are afraid of getting fired. As a result, employees are often afraid of the most senior people in organizations, simply because of their titles. The better the title, the scarier people are. And if employees are scared of organizational leaders, they’re not going to be Manage Upinclined to give those leaders negative feedback. The most senior people in an organization get the least information of anyone.

No one likes to be told that he is wrong. Negative feedback tells the person he did something wrong. But there is more than one way to give feedback. Asking questions can be equally as effective as giving direct feedback.

If you want to give a senior person negative feedback, but you’re afraid of the consequences, manage up by asking more and saying less..

Here are some ways to manage up by asking questions:

Rather than saying, “I disagree, I think you’re wrong, or this is a mistake,” consider managing up by asking questions like:

  • We’ve chosen to invest a lot in this software. I wasn’t here when the software was chosen. What’s the history of this initiative?
  • What were the criteria for selection?
  • How do you think it’s going?
  • What are you concerned about?
  • What are you satisfied with?
  • What else have we tried?
  • What are your thoughts about…?
  • What if we tried…?

Asking questions gets the person involved in a discussion, during which you can eventually express your point of view. When you ask questions, you say very little, and definitely don’t call the person’s decision-making into question.

 Human beings are wired for survival. Receiving negative feedback kicks the need to defend oneself into gear, hence why people become defensive when they receive negative feedback. Negative feedback calls survival into question. If you don’t want people to become defensive, don’t require them to defend themselves. A discussion, during which you ask questions, is much less threatening than overtly disagreeing with someone’s point of view.

Asking questions takes more time and more patience than giving direct feedback. But it also takes less courage, and the quality of your relationship doesn’t have to be as good. You need a pretty good relationship to give direct feedback. If you don’t have that relationship, manage up by asking questions instead of being so direct.

If you do choose to ask questions, watch your tone. If you can safely add the words “you dummy” to a question, you aren’t really asking a question, you’re giving feedback, which is likely to evoke the defensive response you’re seeking to avoid.

It’s important to be able to express your point-of-view at work. Staying in a job or organization in which you can’t speak up, doesn’t feel great and doesn’t leverage the best of what you have to offer. But if you’re concerned about giving direct feedback, manage up by asking questions.  Say less. Ask more.

manage up


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