How To Appropriately “Manage Up”

In our blog “why people behave the way they do” , we suggested that if you are not getting what you want from someone – or are having an issue with their behavior – you can make progress if you simply forgive yourself for being uncomfortable and let them know what you want anyway.

This sparked some interest in how to effectively ‘manage up’.

MANAGING UP means appropriately influencing your manager to do anything that you would like them to do for you – that they are not already voluntarily doing.

Here’s what this could look like…

You want your manager to have a conversation with you about whether you are eligible to be promoted or what your next career goal in the company can/could be.

Or… you believe you can contribute more in the weekly team meeting.

Or… entering a RISKIER arena of managing up – the elephant in the room – looks like this … watching the manager play favorites while nobody says anything.

Or… the manager behaving like they know something in your field of expertise and they are wrong and you think they should know – because they are losing credibility – and nobody is saying anything about it.

Here’s what ‘managing up’ DOESN’T mean…

Saying something like ‘you need to suck up to the boss to get what you want’.

Or… committing to something that the manager proposed – even though you know it’s not going to work (based on your expertise).

So, if managing up is about influence, how do you effectively influence your manager?

It all starts with INTENT. Here’s why…

If you’re like most of us, you believe that the biggest risk you face when dealing with your manager is – that he or she will misinterpret your INTENT or your purpose in speaking with them.


You usually don’t worry about this when you want to speak with your manager about something positive that they have done with you or for you.

When it comes to ‘managing up’ your trepidation usually comes when it’s about something NEGATIVE  that they have done to you.

To deal with this, here are some steps that, if applied, usually help a lot.

Start by apologizing and taking ownership.

This might sound strange but it works. Here’s why…

When there’s tension in a relationship, you can reduce the tension fast by apologizing.

Think about your personal life.

When there is the potential for tension or existing tension, you have probably discovered that apologizing and taking ownership quickly de-fuses the tension, leading to a constructive, adult conversation.

It’s no different at work.

When you are about to mirror a person’s “unwanted” behavior back to them and you want to avoid them getting defensive, it works because when you apologize and take ownership, it makes you appear vulnerable.

Vulnerability makes you more approachable, which leads to commonality which leads to increased comfort – and comfort leads to TRUST.

The important thing is that you don’t have to actually feel vulnerable – you just have to appear to be vulnerable.

Here’s why…

Apologizing means you are taking responsibility for being unclear or confused as to why the person (your manager) is BEHAVING the way they are. Taking ownership means you are clear that this issue may have nothing to do with them and that it might be you that is possibly confused and/or unclear.

Here is an example as to how this plays out…

You are talking to your manager and have got permission to speak with him/her so now you  say, “Before I discuss what I actually want to ask you about, I would like to apologize ahead of time – because what I want to talk about may have nothing to do with you at all and everything to do with me. I’m also a bit confused and unclear, and I’d like some clarity – if you don’t mind – about something that happened.  Is that OK with you?”

Wait for answer – which will almost always be “yes, what’s it about?”.

Here’s an example of what you might then say, “This morning you gave the project to Suzanne after you had promised it to me, without letting me know that you had changed your mind, and I feel unclear and confused about that – and about your intent.”

Chances are if you present your point this way, your manager will say, “Of course it wasn’t my intent to have you feel that way”.

You can then say, “So, can I ask – what was your intent?

Then you will hear what the manager actually intended by giving the project to Suzanne instead of you.

In this way, you have not made them wrong, the focus is on you and not them, and you have given them a chance to clarify what their intent actually was. And, you’ve presented it in a way that also lets them know that their behavior did not work for you.

Now, it’s quite possible that through this entire process you may actually be uncomfortable.

This is quite normal because you have just ‘disagreed’ with your manager’s behavior and for most people, disagreement with other people’s behavior leads to discomfort, nervousness, and fear.

Simply ask yourself if the price of your honesty, clarity, and discomfort is worth it.

If it increases the chances for you to be heard by your manager and to let them know how their behavior actually affects you, and your answer is ‘yes’ –  it was worth it.

After all, if you don’t take the risk to let them know, they may never know.

In summary, the overall rule for all of us is this – If you have a question about someone’s intent, the most valuable and successful self-management thing you can do is to go to that person and ask them about it.

That’s ‘managing up’.

And, since it works both ways, it’s also ‘managing down’.