Following are some steps that you can take to resolve conflicts with your managers.
- Don’t make a plan without talking to your manager first. This one has always been a huge hurdle for me, given that I’m so tactical and immediately start thinking in flowcharts and mock-ups as soon as I’m presented with a problem. But it’s imperative that you not come up with a fixed plan of action on a goal without first conferring with the manager who is going to be responsible for making that plan a reality. The greatest risk here is that you talk through a project with your peers or—yikes—your boss and set some level of expectation that you feel pressure to meet. No offense, but your idea could be off-base, and when it comes to tactics, managers who report to you are better sources than your boss. They actually do it every day.
- Answer the “Why?” question first. When you first roll out a new project to your manager, come with a sheet of desired metrics or goals and a quick synopsis of the benefits to the company. A PowerPoint is probably overkill here; just tell the manager what the company wants to accomplish in general terms. The correct starting point is: “The company is going to outsource some desktop support in the third quarter, and we need to get some user environments standardized,” not “We’re moving to Office XP, so go shop for some upgrade prices.” Make it clear that the goals are not negotiable, but the path to them is still to be determined.
- Compare notes. Have a follow-up meeting with your manager in a few days and evaluate what he or she has come up with. This is one context where I think it’s best to tone down the manager/employee vibe and just collaborate. This atmosphere lets you present your own ideas in a way that your manager won’t resent.
- Be sure to include some input from your manager. The worst thing you can do is ask someone what he or she thinks and then completely blow off the person’s ideas. With managers, this risk is amplified, because they think a lot—maybe more than you know. Even if some of the feedback is pretty far off, mold some of your manager’s ideas into usable forms and include them in the plan. If everything you hear is just wacko, you have a deeper problem than just the project.
- Look out for the “Just tell me what to do” response. This is the big red flag that you’ve probably gone too far and actually are “micromanaging” your manager into frustration and maybe even fatalism. You don’t want managers to do what you tell them; you want them to understand your goals and then go make them happen (believe me, it’s a lot less work). If managers just throws up their hands and check out of a project, you can bet the ground-zero staff is going to do the same thing, and you’ll find yourself pounding out Java code to meet a deadline instead of coming up with your next big idea.