HR Headaches: How to “Manage Up” When Your Boss Lacks Self-Awareness

4 tips on how to deal with an out-of-touch manager who lacks self-awareness.

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Editor’s note: Check out the HR Headaches Series for answers to more hot-button topics.

It’s likely that you’ve encountered a colleague or manager who lacks self-awareness.

Self-awareness is the ability to look inward and see ourselves clearly. It allows us to analyze our personality and behaviors to better understand how we come across to the outside world and impact those around us. Having a strong sense of self-awareness is a key ingredient to living an authentic, productive, and creative life, both at work and in your personal life.

According to this Forbes article, 95% of people believe they are self-aware. In reality, that number is closer to 10-15%. Chances are, you’re working with people who lack self-awareness. You may recognize it in the form of: unwilling to give or receive feedback, unable to empathize with others, blaming others for failures, taking credit for successes, or overstating how much they contribute.

Chances are, you’re working with people who lack self-awareness. You may recognize it in the form of: unwilling to give or receive feedback, unable to empathize with others, blaming others for failures, taking credit for successes, or overstating how much they contribute.

Whether it’s a friend, colleague, or your manager, interacting and collaborating with others is much easier when each individual is self-aware of how they influence their interpersonal dynamics (whether good or bad).

Unfortunately, not everyone you’ll come across in the workplace will have a very developed sense of self-awareness. This is particularly challenging at work when reporting to a manager who is unaware of how they show up with their team.

If you find yourself with a manager with low self-awareness, there may be times you’ll have to “manage up” in order to work successfully with this person. Here are 4 tips we recommend to manage up when your boss lacks self-awareness.

1. Understand different working styles

Everyone has different styles of working, and understanding both yours and your manager’s will help you develop strategies to “manage up”. To discover what these are, try to:

Self reflect and identify your own style

First, look inwards to understand what it is you’re not getting from your boss. Like any interpersonal relationship, understanding your own needs and where they are not being met will help you identify what others can do to better help you.

If you’re not sure where to start, grab a journal and write out the following prompts:

  • The behavior I wish my manager did differently is:
  • This behavior is important for me as an employee because:
  • They could better help me by:

Identify the working styles at play

It’s possible that you may be experiencing conflict with your manager because your working styles are different. For example, you may require someone to give you strict parameters when working, while your manager prefers you to be empowered and self guided. While you may be sitting and waiting for instructions, your manager may be waiting for you to take initiative.

Knowing your differences in expectations can help you identify the gap and work towards a resolution.

Learn to speak their language

Do you know what language your manager speaks? Do they prefer concise, data-driven communication? Or are they the warm and fuzzy kind of communicator? Speak in terms of outcomes they understand. This will help you get more out of them when it comes to managing up.

2. Take the lead, don’t wait!

If there is something you need from your manager that you’re not getting, take the lead whenever possible. For example:

  • If you need more feedback or more frequent 1-on-1 meetings to go over work, go into your manager’s calendar and book time directly. Create a framework that you’d want to follow for this 1-on-1 and come prepared with a list of topics you want to talk about.
  • If you’re not feeling confident that your manager knows enough about your performance to make a clear judgement about your salary increase, book time and make a presentation for them on your yearly performance, results, and successes. Let them know what you’re expecting in terms of promotion and present your case.
  • Try to educate your manager by sharing helpful articles and having discussions as a team around the topic of self-awareness. This could help spark some insight within them.

Catch our drift? Take matters into your own hands!

3. Find mentorship from other avenues

If you’re not getting the mentorship or leadership required, it can be helpful to find allies across your company to align yourself with. These are people you can go to for questions and advice.

Consider reaching out to 2 or 3 people within your organization for a regular coffee chat, and make the effort to build a relationship with them even if they are not directly on your team. They may be able to help you in ways that your manager can’t.

4. Give them feedback whenever possible

It may be possible that your boss simply does not have great managerial skills. It’s also possible that this is a total blind spot for them. Whenever possible, find a way to delicately give them useful feedback that outlines how their behavior impacts the team’s bottom line. You can also give them feedback on how they can better serve you as a manager.

Before doing so, consider:

  1. Using a 360 degree feedback tool when/if possible
  2. Using the Situation-Behavior-Impact model when communicating a desire for change so that you don’t offend your manager or come across as critical
  3. Waiting for an opportunity where you’re both in an open mindset for this type of discussion

Remember, at the end of the day your manager does not influence your life once you’re clocked out. Do your best not to let their lack of self-awareness cause you to burn out.

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