What do conflict resolution and managing up have in common? (Part II)

And then it came to me…

It wasn’t the immediacy factor…it wasn’t the rudeness…instead, it was not knowing what he wanted that was killing me. You see, Terry never took the time to set a context for his requests. He preferred to wait until you were standing in front of him before he would explain what he wanted. Not an efficient use of anyone’s time in my opinion. Plus, I’d usually end up having to run back and forth to my office just to put some resolution on whatever it was I was addressing.

Another dimension here is the power game that was playing out. By not knowing what Terry wanted, I was put in a somewhat helpless…vulnerable…and unprepared position. Not a desirable place for me to be in. As those of you who know me will attest, I’m the type of guy who will go to great lengths to be prepared for just about anything I do.

So I’ve identified the root of the problem…now what?

This is where the “managing up” comes in. I needed Terry to change his behavior just enough so I could not only get my needs met (i.e., to be prepared) but to also have greater efficiency when we do meet. And truthfully, all he would need to do was take an extra few seconds to explain why he needed to see me before hanging up the phone. That’s not asking too much, is it?

The key to managing up is to make a mutually beneficial request in such a way that your boss wants to change. A request, I might add, that is stated in a positive way, making it almost impossible to be turned down.

But isn’t this a form of manipulation, you ask?

Yes and no. “Yes” in that you are purposely crafting your words to solicit a desired response, but “No” in that you are simply asking for what you need. What we are talking about here is diplomacy. Instead of criticizing your boss, you turn whatever need is not being met into a request. The end-results are the same…your boss changes his/her behavior and you get your needs met. The best part is that you didn’t upset your boss in the process. How cool is that?

 So here’s how it went down

At the end of our next weekly one-on-one meeting I said, “Terry, there’s one more thing.”

“What’s that?” he said.

You know what would be helpful to me?”

What’s that?” he said (again).

When you need me ASAP, do you mind taking a second or two to tell me what it’s concerning? That way I can be more prepared and not have to waste your time by running back and forth to my office.”

He smiled, “Sure.”

I did a double-take. Sure. That’s it! You mean to tell me I’ve spend all these months agonizing over this and that’s all you have to say!

And it worked! Not only that, but that request gave me permission to gently remind Terry of our agreement the few times he forgot later on.

 So, the next time your boss triggers you, answer these questions before approaching him/her:

  1.  What need of yours is not being met?
  2. What is the impact of that need not being met?
  3. What do you need differently?
  4. What would that look like?

Now put this in the form of a request, making sure you include how your boss will benefit by this as well.

Oddly, the process above is the same process I use when mediating a conflict between two employees. Instead of focusing on the problematic behavior, we negotiate around what needs aren’t being met, form requests, make agreements, and then move on. The relationship will naturally improve as well since we’ve removed the barriers that caused the problems in the first place.



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