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We can often be under the illusion that managers are always right. But, as films such as Horrible Bosses suggest, that isn’t always the case, says C-J Green.


04 December 2017 | C-J Green

Sometimes bosses behave in a way that is damaging and destructive to the working day, not to mention confidence. So what’s the best approach if you’re tasked with managing your manager? 

We need to remember that managers are usually under a lot of pressure. They’re tasked with taking charge of teams, budgets and projects and they’re accountable for spending, the actions of others and the end results. In addition, they have to make business-critical decisions without the luxury of time – and then they have to convince others (and themselves) that those decisions are the right ones. 

Business operations aside, managers are responsible for ensuring that their colleagues live a happy and healthy life, at work and at home. The onus is on them to create supportive work environments, and part of that involves hiding any stress they themselves may be experiencing. Despite the fact that managers need guidance like anyone else, there isn’t always the support network in place – so sometimes that stress can leak out and impact others.

The way people interact with their bosses is crucial when aiming to develop and nurture a positive relationship. It takes a certain approach to learn how to give feedback to those who manage you. It’s often something that is overlooked and ignored, perhaps because of the fear factor attached to such conversations, often deemed as ‘awkward’. However, such communication is necessary if you’re to work in harmony with your colleagues and wider team, and progress in your career of choice.

Here are some tips for handling those trickier conversations:

1. Establish trust

Could you be putting your job or your relationship in jeopardy by giving your manager some constructive feedback? Not if it’s done in the right way. Being open and honest with your boss about their weaknesses can be daunting. However, your input can help inspire adjustments in behaviour that may benefit the rest of the work community. 

The ability to provide feedback to someone senior to you depends on the relationship in question. Even if you have an amazing relationship, highlighting areas for improvement without being prompted to do so may not be received kindly. A great way to bypass this obstacle is to ask your manager if they would like any feedback about their management style in the context of the activities being undertaken. Demonstrate your willingness to help, and they may be more receptive to a conversation. 

2. Offer constructive feedback

When giving feedback, try to be open with affirmative and constructive comments. Perhaps begin with a strength of theirs, before moving on to suggestions for improvement. Focusing on the negative isn’t conducive to a helpful conversation; and the line manager in question may feel attacked and react accordingly. The most common defence mechanism is to redistribute blame; and that won’t do much for the working relationship.

3. Be helpful

Team members in a managerial position are conscientious characters who probably worked extremely hard to get to the position they are in. Working late and at weekends is a part of their normal routine. Working to this level can sometimes be stressful and a little support and acknowledgment would go a long way. If your manager looks as though they are reacting in a way that’s different to their standard behaviour, be mindful of this and accept it may just be due to heavy workload and pressure from above. 

If your manager is stressed, try to help them in whatever way you can – as stress can often spiral down to other staff members and can cause tension. Perhaps keep an eye on how tasks are delegated and offer suggestions to your manager to ensure the best people are matched with the tasks that suit their skill sets. This should even out workload and strengthen the trust between the team. Plus, your supervisor will recognise that you are supporting the wider team and acting in its interests. 

4. Gain composure

Try to exclude emotion from the situation. If your manager is behaving in a way that is upsetting you, they may be unhappy as a result of circumstances you’re unaware of. This may cause them to be over-sensitive and emotional. If their behaviour is having an effect on your emotions, then try to vent your frustration out of your system before talking to your manager. Doing this in the comfort of your own home with a friend, family member or loved one is the best option. 

It’s important to take time to question whether your reasons for complaining are clear and rational. If the problems you’re experiencing have been occurring for a number of months and your manager is still troubling you, then it’s time to do something about the situation. When addressing the matter, ensure that you maintain an open dialogue and clearly communicate the problem without attacking them with your frustration. Be sure to listen to their reasons and even offer a solution while giving feedback yourself. If your manager feels calm and comfortable talking with you, they will be less likely to be defensive and hopefully deal with the matter at hand as best they can.

5. Be human

We all react differently to different situations. The way you approach a conversation always depends on with whom you’re having that conversation. That’s one of the reasons we’ve recently implemented our ‘Insights Discovery’ programme – a basic profiling tool used to help individuals determine their personality type. This involves having the candid conversations necessary to jointly figure out how managers and the individuals within their teams can work together to ensure they can get the best out of each other. The rationale behind this innovation is that we believe it’s important to get people to understand themselves so they can, in turn, understand how to interact with other people. 

In summary, it takes time to learn how to give feedback upwards; and how to, essentially, manage your manager. This is a key skill and it’s one that is often neglected because there tends to be a fear attached to offering constructive feedback to one’s seniors. However, this is essential when working so closely together – and people need to get over their worry of ruffling feathers. My approach would be to strip emotion from the equation, to understand exactly what the problem is, to practise how to confidently and articulately communicate areas of concern, and to be careful with how I offer that feedback. It’s about being honest while remaining aware that egos may be bruised in the process.