5 Key Mistakes in Communication with Management

5 Key Mistakes

The post from May 2021 had created a lot of traction, so I decided to convert it to a short article and translate to English.

Bad relationship with manager may be not a first reason why people quit their jobs, but it is definitely in top 5. And is in any human-to-human interactions, if communication is broken, most probably relationship are in bad state either. Let’s try to figure out what are the key mistakes in communication with management and how to avoid them.

Everyone has a management. A person or group of people with whom we discuss results of our work and who interested in positive outcomes of our efforts. A Software Engineer has a Product Owner, a Sales Rep has a regional VP and a CEO has Board of Directors and shareholders.

And (surprise!), they are all humans. Humans are biased, they have limited amount of memory, their physical and emotional capacity is not infinite and they have ingrained or adopted beliefs and preferences. What is more important – they have own challenges and goals because they have management as well. There is no ideal manager, like there is no ideal human. But it does not mean that you cannot build a successful communication.

Here is my definition of a good manager (if we will not take functional skills into consideration):

  • They listen and not only talk themselves
  • They delegate and inspect results
  • They give freedom of actions, but they give guidance and set expectations

Now, let’s move on to a first mistake.

Mistake #1. Absence of regular communication

Mistake 1

Absence of regular communication is a key root cause between a manager and an individual contributor:

  • If there is no exchange of information, both sides more likely to come to wrong conclusions and make wrong decisions
  • The longer there is no communication, the less is alignment and understanding of events and reality drifts apart
  • Absence of regular communication erodes trust over the time. Will you feel comfortable sharing something with a person who you see once in a year?

Here is very typical situation. There are a team and a manager. The team does something, close tickets, work with customers and etc. The manager only assigns tasks and asks for a status update. Over the time, a connection between the manager and the team will become weaker and team members will start to lose understanding of a goal and a vision. Don’t underestimate importance of the context. Even extremely self-motivated people will lose context if kept in isolation for long time.

The solution is regular 1-on-1 meetings:

  • Both manager and individual contributor are responsible for 1-on-1 meetings agenda and content. Don’t lean on the other side, take initiative
  • There should be regular cadence for 1on1s, not ad-hoc
  • Don’t turn 1on1s to status update meetings. Prioritize important things – career aspirations, challenges, long term plans, feelings about working environment
  • And this goes both ways – ask you manager about their challenges, how they are being measured and what goals they have. It will help to build trust.

Mistake #2. No clarity in goals and aspirations

Mistake 2

The goal of every good manager is to help their team members to grow as experts and leaders. If you do not have a goal or do not know what are your aspirations, they will not be able to help you.

Very often during 1on1s managers hear “I don’t know” answer on question about long-term plans and career aspirations. If this continues for a long time, both sides will be frustrated in the end. So, take accountability for your career in your hands. Let your manager know what you actually want (even if you think you cannot make it).

A role of management in your career plans is to bring you opportunities to obtain new skills and knowledge, so help them to find the right ones.

Mistake #3. Do not talk about preferences and concerns

Mistake 3

If previous mistake was about not knowing and not talking, the next on is about knowing and still keeping silence.

Every manager has their own style and behavior. But they became managers because they are flexible enough to change it if required and adopt another leadership style. However, if you are not talking about your preferences how you want to be managed, they do not have a chance to change.

So, discuss following topics during 1on1s:

  • How do you want to be praised? What makes you feel recognized and valued?
  • Do you want to be externally visible or not?
  • Where are borderlines of your comfort zone?

Nobody knows you better than yourself and it is a mistake to withhold this knowledge.

Mistake #4. Inform about a problem when it is too late

Mistake 4

Nothing erodes trust more than a situation “I wish you told earlier about it.” When a problem is already here and negative effect is in action, it is more difficult to find a solution. Simply because less options are available. As a result, more efforts are required to recover and more damage is done.

Instead of keeping your management unaware, escalate early. Give a heads up, change a project status to yellow. Give your management some time to react on a situation but do not withdraw from the issue. The fact of escalation does not mean this is not your problem any longer, it just means that you need support.

Mistake #5. Do not talk about your achievements and do not track them

Mistake 5

Our achievements and walked extra miles mean nothing if relevant stakeholders do not know about them. Sad, but true.

Your manager does not track 100% of things you are doing because it is not scalable. Your 1on1s is a time to discuss your achievements. However, our memory is not a reliable source of such information. Everything fades and does not look important after some time. The best solution is to create achievement log document and track all your closed projects and artifacts in writing. Review this document together with your management and use it as a ground work for a promotion discussion.

Found something useful for yourself? Post your thoughts in the comments sections!

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