Listen Up to Manage Up: Tips on Tuning In
Staying at home has forced us to change the way we interact and communicate day-to-day. What once might have been considered futuristic overkill—maintaining contact and attending meetings solely through digital screens—now seems unexceptional. We’re adapting and making it work, even if this isn’t the ideal solution to interacting with our colleagues and supervisors.
You may have the temptation to occasionally “tune out” during virtual meetings when other people are the primary speakers. You may have to fight the feeling that you’re just a silent participant. There’s also that looming internet browser icon or the open draft of that important email you’ve been working on calling your name—all while the virtual meeting is still active. If the meeting were held in person, none of these things would likely cross your mind.
That’s why listening has become even more crucial as we work remotely. The best work comes from the best listeners. And you can only listen well if you know what to listen for.
The best work comes from the best listeners...And you can only listen well if you know what to listen for.
When I was hired at Creatis in 2016, I first heard the phrase “manage up” during the interview process. At the time, I had no idea what it meant and didn’t put much thought into it, but over my years here it’s grown into a sort of second-nature practice that keeps me on-track. In fact, it was already part of my work-style as a “harmonizer” Strengths Finder type. Managing up is really about adding value to your supervisor and by proxy, yourself—and its principles also apply to best serving co-workers.
It's not playing “teacher’s pet” or trying too hard to be liked; there’s no ego-massaging involved. Managing and listening up is taking work off others’ plates by doing your homework, asking the right questions and listening closely to understand your supervisor’s needs. It’s this kind of “close reading” mentality that helps make Creatis successful and embodies all our core values. And there’s no managing up without listening up. You have to be “tuned in” for it to work best, especially with virtual tools being our primary form of communication.
Chances are you’re already doing this on some level, but I’ve put together a little checklist that helped me understand how to best listen and manage up to “the Boss” (and I don’t mean Bruce Springsteen, unless Bruce is actually your employer, in which case, let's chat further).
- Who's the Boss?
- The TV show from the 80s was onto something. Ask yourself: Who is your supervisor and what are they like, personality-wise? Are they proactive drivers or more introspective and deliberate? Big picture or detail-oriented? Ask them what their Strengths Finder results are, having this info is like the key on a map. Get to know what kind of information helps them do their job, what is unnecessary, and what you can take care of for them.
- Watch the Boss
- Take notes on how your supervisor interacts with other colleagues, peers and employees—through email, phone or video chats. This is where listening is important. How do they direct conversation? What kind of action steps do they assign and why? What are their day-to-day priorities? From there, you can start to interpret what is most helpful and, equally important, what's most unhelpful for them to know.
- Ask the Boss
- Yes, you don’t want to ask too many impertinent questions, but as your understanding of your supervisor's role grows, you'll become more confident in your asks; knowing what you really need answered to move forward, and what can wait until the next meeting. Bring a list of questions you need answered into every meeting, virtual or otherwise. Simply ask yourself: What do I need to know right now to keep working on this project?
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