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20 Ways to Manage Your Boss

It’s performance-review season in Officeville and that means most of us are going to be singing “me me me” louder than any other time of the year.

Bernhard Lang | Getty Images

Is my boss going to give ME a good review? He’d better give ME a raise — I deserve it! Ooh, do you think he’ll give ME a bonus, too?!

Charming though your little “me” chorus is, the truth is, it’s not going to get you very far unless you start thinking about your boss and how best to manage your relationship with him or her. When we think of managing, we tend to only think of managing subordinates but the truth is, you have to manage in every direction: up, down and side to side.

“Managing up can sound like how to manipulate your boss but that’s not really it all,” said Marie McIntyre, a career coach and author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”“Whenever you’re trying to build a positive, productive relationship with anybody, you have to look at it from their point of view. And that’s particularly true with your boss because your boss does control a lot of things that affect you at work,” she said.

“Even if you work for an idiot, you have to figure out how to manage working with an idiot,” she added. “As long as that person is your boss, they’re going to affect your life and you have to figure out how to work with them.”

So, how exactly do you “manage” your boss? We asked the pros and they offered up these 20 Ways to Manage Your Boss:

1. Accept the fact that your boss is your boss. It’s amazing how many times people say — I’m not going to tell him that, he’s a jerk. I don’t have to be nice to him — I just have to clock in, do my job and clock out. Wrong! Your boss not only controls if you get a raise this year, if you get promoted or if you get a pink slip but he or she also has great influence on the opinions of his boss and other managers.

If you’re jerky or disrespectful to the boss, it doesn’t hurt anyone but you. So whether you think he’s an idiot or if you have no respect for him doesn’t matter at all. You need to figure out how to manage your relationship with the boss in order to get what you want.

2. Prove that you’re trustworthy. Your boss can’t be everywhere at all times so you’re one of his eyes and ears on the ground. So, if you have information about something good, share it. Even if it’s bad news, you have to have the courage to tell it to your boss so you can put out the fire.

“If you’re sitting on a ticking time bomb, things will happen if you’re afraid to tell the boss the bad news,” said Dion Lim, president of job-search site Simply Hired. “Remember, you and your boss are in this together.”

3. Don’t complain about your boss with others. One easy way to break that trust with your boss is to have her find out that you’ve been complaining about him to other people. So, resist the urge to give in to office complaining. Remember: You never know when that person you think is on your side commiserating about the boss will turn on you. Keep your eye on the big picture and keep your trap shut.

4. Don’t whine! You hate it when your colleagues whine, you hate it when your spouse or kids whine, so what do you think the boss’s response will be if you’re always coming into his office complaining? You guessed it — Hate it! It’s completely fair to bring a complaint or issue to the boss — just make sure you practice how you say it. Keep it professional and check your emotions at the door. If you want to scream, cry or punch something after work — that’s totally your prerogative. When you’re at the office, zip it.

5. Look at the situation from your boss’s point of view. Sitting in your cubicle, it’s easy to sing the me, me, me song, and stew in what you are and are not getting, who’s getting more, etc. But that’s not going to get you anywhere with the boss. Before you approach your boss, try to think about what she’s going through — is it budget time? Did she just have to lay off 20 people? Is she getting pressure to improve the numbers from her boss?

“I call it ‘taking the emotional temperature of the boss,’” said Peggy Klaus, a career coach and author of the book, “Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It.” “Think about what ticks him off. What pleases him … Do you know when the best time to approach him is? Is he a bear before his morning coffee? Or, is he cranky after a board meeting?!”

“Timing is everything,” said Avi Karnani and Dave Clarke of GetRaised.com, a site that helps employees ask — and get — a raise. “A simple inquiry regarding, say, your interest in working from home one day a week shouldn't be delivered on a Friday evening at the end of the quarter - it's almost a guarantee that your boss will be stressed … That’ll do more damage than good,” Karnani explained. “However, if you were to time your inquiry to when you know your boss will be most receptive (maybe that's on Tuesdays after the lunch hour), you'll probably have more success.”

6. Treat your boss with respect. Regardless of how you feel about your boss, he’s is in a higher position than you and you and you need to treat him with respect.

“This doesn’t mean you have to respect your boss,” McIntyre explained. “You may not actually respect your boss as a person but you need to be respectful of the boss,” she said.

If you don’t, he or she will pick up on it, and respond accordingly. Think about that little punk at the deli counter yesterday. Then ask yourself: If you were the boss, would you promote someone who didn’t respect you?

MAKE HIM LOOK GOOD

7. Try to understand your boss’s management style. Every boss has a different style. Some are outgoing and like to chat, some are more quiet. Some like you to keep them in the loop on every little thing. Some don’t want to be bogged down with that, but would rather that you just deliver occasional status reports of the projects you’re working on. Some may not be big on showering you with praise every time you do something good. It also includes how they prefer to interact — phone, email or face-to-face. Also, what time of day is good or bad for them. Whatever it is, find out what your boss’s management style is — and make sure all of your communications with them fit with that style.

This is particularly important when you get a new manager, McIntyre said. “Call them on the phone, send them an email. Find out what they like,” she said. Plus, don’t be afraid to check with colleagues about their experience with the boss and her style. Every little bit helps.

8. Try to make your boss look good! You may have learned to keep your lip zipped when it comes to the boss but you have to go beyond not creating conflict with the boss. You also have to do things that make her look good. Not only will it be better for the team — it will be better for your career.

9. Try to make your boss’s job easier. Yeah, yeah. You’re exhausted. If you think your job is stressful, think about how much more the boss has to deal with! Get over yourself and do things to try to make the boss’s job easier.

“We're not suggesting you become the office kiss-up, but helping your boss out every now and then with day-to-day stuff can go a long way,” Karnani said. “Are you tech-savvy? Does your boss not have the faintest idea on how to operate his iPod? Offer to be his go-to for all things tech. Bottom line, if you make your bosses life easier, chances are, he/she will return the favor when you need it.”

10. Keep your boss in the loop. No matter how busy you are, take the time to keep your boss in the loop. Per No. 7, find out what her style is — how she likes to be notified of what’s going on — and how often. One of the worst things for a boss is to have a fellow manager be talking about someone on her team, and not having any idea what the guy’s talking about or, worse, not knowing about a ticking time bomb. Give your boss regular updates — but make sure you keep them brief. Karnani suggests maybe making a list on Sunday night of what you plan to do in the coming week and send it to your boss.

11. Express some sincere appreciation for your boss. “It never hurts to express some sincere appreciation to your boss,” McIntyre said. They hear a lot about what’s wrong — but don’t often hear praise or appreciation. And who doesn’t like to be appreciated? You’d be amazed about how far a little appreciation will go.

“We’re not talking about sucking up! But things you generally appreciate about your boss — Even a boss you don’t love,” she said.

Surely, you can find at least one nice, sincere thing to say — even if you don't really like the guy. It's not sucking up, it's called "career advancement."

12. Don’t feel entitled. Yes, we all know you work hard and deserve a raise. But walking into the boss’s office with a sense of entitlement is a surefire way to be shuffled out of there in a hurry. “Stay away from broad, general statements like ‘Doesn’t everybody get a promotion after a year?’” Klaus said. Even if everybody does get a raise after a year, you want to prove to the boss that you’ve earned it. Go in there with a list of accomplishments — not a list of entitlements.

13. Offer solutions — not just problems. Do you have any idea how many people on a daily basis, walk in to the boss’s office and dump their purse on his desk? Instead of dropping an open-ended problem, briefly tell him what the problem is and then offer up a couple of solutions. It’s a lot easier to answer a multiple-choice question than an open-ended question. Plus, it will brand you as a “solutions” person — one of the most valuable types of employees to the boss. Of course, be prepared that he may choose e) none of the above, and provide a different solution. Remember, he’s the boss — that’s his prerogative. What’s important is that he will appreciate your effort to solve the problem, not just dump it on his desk.

“I love it! I always love when someone comes to me with a solution,” Klaus said. “That takes you out of the whining category!”

TOOT YOUR OWN HORN

14. Do your homework! Before you go into the boss’s office with a request for a raise or new project, do your homework. Find out what your company’s policies are, what the company’s going through right now (financially and organizationally) and what’s going on in your industry in general, suggests Stacey Carroll, a human-resources expert for PayScale.com and an adjunct professor at Western Washington University.

Then, prepare a list of key bullet points before you talk to the boss and do a practice run — either alone in your office or before a spouse or friend outside the office. “I call it getting it off your tongue,” Klaus said. That will help make sure you’re brief and not tongue-tied. Plus, try to anticipate the boss’s response — and have some answers ready.

15. Have a clear objective. Sometimes you think you know what you’re asking for just because you’ve gone over and over it in your head. But if you don’t do your prep, you may go in there and do the verbal equivalent of falling down a flight of stairs.

Know what your objective is, get in, get out — and let the boss move on.

16. Defer to your boss. Lim said one of the best pieces of advice he ever got from a mentor was to defer to your boss. You go in there with clear objectives and say “This is what we’re planning to talk about today.” Then, defer to your boss and say, “Is there something else that you actually feel is more urgent for us to talk about?”

“That lets him know that you’re well prepared but you’re ready to put it in your back pocket if something is more urgent,” he said.

17. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Too often, people see asking for help as a weakness and want to be that “Yes” Man to their boss. Remember that your boss’s objective is to get the task done, so don’t be the “Yes” Man, be the “Get it Done” Man — even if it means asking for help. Your boss won’t think less of you for asking, they’ll think more of you — because you quickly assessed what it would take to get the job done — and got it done.

18. Toot your own horn. A lot of people treat bosses and colleagues like a date — they don’t want to be seen as the obnoxious person who brags too much. Knock it off! No one says you have to be obnoxious but if you don’t tell the boss your accomplishments, who will? Remember, you are thinking about one employee — you — and your boss has a whole lot of employees to think about. So periodically make sure you let her know about your accomplishments and any great feedback you’ve received.

“The boss often really doesn’t know what you’re doing,” Klaus explained. “You absolutely have to toot your own horn. And you can do it artfully and gracefully,” she said.

19. Ask your boss for honest feedback. So, you got a bad review or you didn’t get that raise. A lot of people will take that as a cue to complain about the boss, or write it off as him not understanding or appreciating you. So how’s that working out for you? It probably strained your relationship. A better bet, Carroll said, is to ask your boss for honest feedback. There’s probably a lot more going on than he didn’t understand or appreciate you. Maybe there’s a budget freeze or maybe there are restructuring plans. Find out what the issues are — and then find out if there’s anything else you can do to improve your chances of getting that raise, getting that promotion — whatever it is you’re asking him for.

20. Don’t try to be friends with your boss. Sorry, we’re grown-ups now and you have to accept that you can be friendly with your boss but anyone who’s conducting your performance review or deciding if you get a raise cannot be your friend. Being too close with the boss could not only strain relations with your peers, but stir rumors of favoritism., McIntyre cautioned. So that not only creates problems for you, but problems for your boss — which is what this whole list is aimed at avoiding.

So, does that mean forget the holiday gift?

No way!, the pros say. A modest gift is a sign of your appreciation and, like anyone else, bosses like to be appreciated.

One way to keep it from getting weird is to go in with several co-workers on a gift for the boss. That’s a win-win-win: Your boss feels appreciated, you look good and now you’ve also made your co-workers look good.

Nice!

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