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Careers Café

Better communication at work: Managing up


Networking still seems to be one of the best job search strategies out there. Maybe that’s bad news, since so many people hate networking. In the good news column, though, is this: the skills networking develops continue to help you when you’re employed and need to manage up.

There are some false assumptions out there about both networking and managing up: that employers will come to the right conclusions with minimal information; that laying things out clearly will insult the intelligence of the employer; that the employee or job seeker must do a disingenuous sales job. And then there’s the fear that no one really wants to hear what you have to say.

At the most basic level, managing up involves actively letting your boss know what you’re doing and what you’re able to do, just like networking. It can feel odd to introduce this if it isn’t already part of your relationship with your boss. You could take the guesswork out of the process by saying something like, “In my effort to respect your time, I may have been updating you too infrequently on the progress of my work. Can we take a few minutes to fine-tune how updates should work?

Presto! You’ve opened the door to better communication, paved the way for your boss to have a more accurate, fulsome understanding of your accomplishments, and helped your boss be better prepared to share your progress with their own boss and anyone else who has an interest in your work.

When keeping your boss up to date, much like when editing a cover letter, it makes sense to state the “So what?” plainly. There’s nothing wrong with saying that, because of X and Y, the work you’re doing isn’t on course, and then to offer a plan to correct it. If you need your boss to remove an obstacle or get you access to a resource, go ahead and say so, and be ready to explain why you think that’s the best course of action.

Managing up, like networking, like writing resumes and cover letters for jobs, like interviewing, need not be presumptuous. Managing up is helpful in the same way that conducting an honest job search is helpful to potential employers: you’re giving the employer information they need about how to best meet their mandate at work.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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