4 ways to be a better partner at work

How to build trust and transparency with your manager

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Ayo Ogunseinde via Unsplash

ESP has yet to be confirmed, making it safe to say there’s no such thing as a mind reader. So there's no reason to believe your manager is one. And despite how uncomfortable it might be to talk about issues or conflict — let alone get it right — we have to do it.

If you've lost hours of time mulling over how to tell your boss you feel either micromanaged, mismanaged, or out of step with what's going on, you're not alone. According to Gallup's State of the American Manager, over 70% of the reasons people feel engaged or disengaged at work ties back to their manager, and one in two people leave their job to get away from bad ones.

Trust is at the crux of high-functioning organizations, and the key to great manager-report relationships. The absence of trust and the connection it fosters is why things tend to go south. Maybe your manager checks up on you multiple times a day, asking for every little detail about a task, breaking your focus. Or they don't check in at all. Perhaps you feel like they're not supportive of your work, or you get feedback that makes you feel deflated for doing things differently than they would have. There are many things that we all deal with at work that we don't have the heart to address and clear the air.

Communicating with your manager, and vice versa, so you can both build more trust is critical to success at work.

But allowing these issues and feelings to ferment can have enormous consequences for the team and your business as a whole. From people not taking time off for fear of falling behind, resulting in deep unhappiness, to a complete erosion of trust, lost productivity, and billions in lost revenue. Communicating with your manager, and vice versa, so you can both build more trust is critical to success at work.

What makes this hurdle challenging to get over is not knowing how your manager will respond or what it'll mean for your future at the company. That's no small thing. We've written about micromanagers before and what's at the root of their habits. To no one's surprise, the ego is a big part of it. But how do you build trust with your manager without making it about them? An excellent question for which we think we've got some advice.

Here are four simple ways to clue your boss in on how you're feeling and offer fixes that are about you, not them.

1. Do check-ins

One reason tensions might arise with a manager is visibility. It’s especially true in remote workplaces where you can't physically pop by to see what someone is doing. You can imagine this driving a control freak crazy.

Whether it's from a place of wanting to be on top of things to make the team look impressive to upper management or from the need to be in control, a manager who resorts to obsessive observing or controlling behavior can have negative effects on your productivity and business (big time). So, how do you get in front of this without making it about their microaggressions?

Ongoing asynchronous check-ins are a great place to start.

When we say check-in, we mean following a cadence where there is a set time and place for your manager to expect an update about what you're working on and how it's going. They're beneficial in quite a few ways.

  • They address visibility and reduce random interruptions.
  • They give you more freedom to direct your work.
  • They serve as a map and a reminder of the tasks you've set yourself.
  • They're a record of your progress.
  • With tools like Range, you can even bring all the work you're doing across all of your software into one place and let your manager see your progress or anything you’re feeling blocked by.
  • They give you more freedom to direct your work.

With check-ins, you guide the conversation. But you also make it less about your manager's management style and more about building trust that you're doing the work and making progress.

So, for example, let's say your boss is someone who compares every step you take to how they would do things. They may send you a Slack message, shoot you an email, or put an impromptu video meeting on your calendar based on their timing or knowledge of your job if there is nothing in place to show them otherwise. Allowing them to see this upfront and add their two cents as necessary without the need to intervene saves both of you time and can strengthen your working relationship.

2. Get a coach

Research shows that, unfortunately, most people are not natural people managers and frequently don't get the training they need to be a good one. Of course, this skill is learnable, but that's the manager's responsibility to take on, not yours.

Having a neutral third party in the mix can help to mitigate some of the misunderstandings that occur when mismanagement from telling versus guiding takes place.

"[Coaching is] unlocking a person's potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them." —Sir John Whitmore**

A coach can be anyone at your company with perhaps more experience managing people, has circles of influence, or who can bring an impartial view to how you approach work. Their role is to create value by empowering you to be your best, without the added pressure of leading a project in its entirety or having a direct stake in the success of it. They can also be a way to filter feedback that can feel difficult to share or hard not to make personal.

Let's say you're working through a project at a respectable pace, but your manager is under a ton of pressure to produce results immediately. While unfair to all involved, this situation does show its ugly face from time to time. Let's say this behavior continues for an extended period and sours your relationship with the manager in question. A coach would be able to add context and suggestions here, while also being a mediator with your manager who may be unaware of how they are handling their stress.

Getting a separate coach may not be an option for you at your company. But it's worth presenting the idea as a way for the business as a whole to remain productive and to keep you happy. And research has shown time and again that a happy employee is a good ROI.

3. Separate progress and process

How much work you get done on a project has little to do with the number of steps or tasks it takes to get there. Yet, your manager might see their list of things to do at twenty, and yours at five, and get the sense that you're not doing enough to push things forward.

But there are countless reasons for this difference, not least of which varying skill sets, strengths, and processes. An effective way to shape this conversation is to decouple their process from the progress you're able to make doing things your way. You can do this by highlighting a few key differences between the two p's.

  • Processes can help with efficiency and accountability at the organizational level.
  • But processes are not your business goal; progress is.
  • Progress produces results that push the needle forward.
  • But progress is not how much time is spent or steps taken, processes are.
  • Process and progress both help the company make and save money.
  • But too many processes are a direct threat to progress and, in turn, productivity.
  • Lastly, putting progress over process also builds trust by enabling employees to make decisions without bottlenecks.

Processes are good to have, for sure. They create order and consistency and make handing off work from one team member to another easier. They also bring clarity to confusion and ensure permissions for big decisions are shared. But the number of steps you take and the amount of time it requires you to get a task done should not be set in stone. Progress is the thing that's going to make the team successful, and often how someone else does things may hold you up. Making this distinction clear with your manager may help reduce tension resulting from poor people management.

4. Make it about you

By addressing issues with your manager's style, you're not creating more problems; you're solving them. And the best way to do this is to share what motivates you and keeps you on your toes in terms of getting things done.

Micromanagers or bad managers often get pulled by their ego or sense of importance. So it makes sense that making the issue you’re having working with them about that very ego a non-starter. Instead, framing it so that it's about how your manager can unblock you and create value for the entire company by doing so is just a good bet. This effort will take a delicate hand and empathy for how others work — but showing that you’re trying to tackle the problem head on without sniping or office politics will go a long way in building trust and improving efficiency.

Many managers want to get better; they often just don’t know how to start. Hopefully these methods will prove useful. They’re a way for you to be an active participant in your job and to make conflict less about your manager's shortcomings in the people department, and more about the things you need to be successful and an excellent partner to your team.

Stay safe.

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4 ways to be a better partner at work
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