Understanding the Manager

by Krishna on March 26, 2006

Everyone has, at one time or the other, had something to say that disparaged their manager. Unless you are a complete toady, you will find yourself disagreeing with your manager at several times. It doesn’t help by just complaining about it. So how do you communicate your disagreement and why should you be careful about it?

Let’s first look at what typical managers do when they have an action plan. You may be doing the same thing with managing your subordinates or, if you are not yet a manager, your personal life. This may feel like looking into a mirror.

  1. Most managers invest considerable personal emotion into their decisions. They demand respect for their ideas.
  2. They want to be in control all the time. I don’t necessarily mean controlling — I mean to say that they want to have a handle on the progress of things. Not being in control makes them fear that things are going wrong.
  3. Managers may invite feedback from others, but they have to be comfortable with the final decision. The decision may be made quickly or not, but the manager has concluded his or her mental deliberations and is comfortable with the decision.
  4. They want others to accept their plan and give 100% cooperation and energy in moving the plan forward.
  5. They don’t want to see someone deviate from their instructions without informing them and getting their consent, because of the risky and uncertain nature of such actions.
  6. Ideas that supplement the main action plan are entertained if they result in easier and faster achievement of the plan or if they require fewer resources.

Let us say that you don’t like the plan. You may feel that the plan is or sections of the plan are fundamentally flawed because you see obstacles that the manager does not. How do you handle the situation delicately? Let’s look at each of the above points:

  1. Don’t get emotional or personal when discussing your objections. Don’t try to sound more clever or superior. That puts the manager into a defensive mode. You are not talking to boost your ego. You are there to achieve something.
  2. Respect the manager as an individual. People become managers because someone promoted them there on their achievements. Their plans may be stupid, but they may not be. They may have their reasons which you are not aware of. So don’t pre-judge them. This may be hard for you if you have been reading too many Dilbert cartoons. 🙂
  3. Be ready to hear “No” for some, if not all, of your objections. You shouldn’t be emotionally attached to your thinking, otherwise the discussion may end up as a shouting match. You may have to agree to disagree.
  4. If you are given a “No” answer for your suggestions, you must honor that decision. Mutual trust is vital.
  5. Ask questions starting with “How do we handle …” or “What do we do if …”. This puts the manager into a problem-solving mode, where he/she can come up with answers to your obstacles. Don’t start providing answers immediately. Remember — you may not have the right answers, either.
  6. Don’t try to get everything achieved in one discussion. You may have to go back and then send questions or queries through email or set up another meeting. This maintains a dialog between you and the manager and results in an open line of communication.
  7. Find out about the manager’s objectives — provide alternative courses that meet the same objectives with fewer resources, quicker delivery or less risk. But remember that a fundamental change of course may result in the manager’s losing face in the organization and is less likely to be approved.

Work with the manager. Give him or her your full co-operation. Provide regular feedback and communicate frequently. Discuss your misgivings with your managers directly instead of with your colleagues, unless you want to get their opinions before talking with the managers.

The above points are about differences of opinions in strategy and technical execution, when the manager is trying to meet organizational needs or objectives. If the manager is doing something that differs from organizational policy or your manager is an insufferable what-not, that is a whole different ballgame. We will discuss that in a later blog.

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