6 Steps to Help Introverts Realign With Their Manager
Creating a purposeful bond with your manager from the start takes a lot of time and effort. However, it is much easier to maintain a positive relationship going forward than to fix a dysfunctional relationship later, often when operational issues arise, emotions are high, and patience runs thin. Misalignment with managers is the most common form of frustration for employees. Introverts may be tempted to absorb all the blame or write off the connection entirely. However, moments of reflection and communication may help preserve the relationship and potentially be a catalyst for enhanced rapport going forward.
Many are returning to work for the first time in a couple of years, only to find either a new boss or that relations with the old boss need to be re-booted.
Certainly, if you are being harassed or subject to inappropriate behavior from your manager or anyone else at work, this is never acceptable, and you have the responsibility to yourself and to the company to bring these issues to the appropriate authority immediately.
Otherwise, if you sense that the relationship is deteriorating, employ this six-step REPAIR model:
1) REVIEW the situation: Take time alone and jot down the issues. What is not going well? Are you two not talking or are you misaligned? Are you not getting the support you need? Are you getting “too much” support? Also, be honest in assessing your own contributions to the problem at hand. Are you sharing? Are you involving your manager as needed? Do you feel the job or expectations have changed? Note what is still going well. What do you still enjoy from the job and relationship with your manager? Write it all down. Don’t filter your thoughts. You won’t be sharing this piece of paper, but it helps to get all your concerns out of your head.
2) EXPLORE the root cause: Once you have flushed out your thoughts and concerns, review them. Ask yourself “why” when evaluating each source of concern. Then seek the common thread throughout your list. Usually, there is one root cause. You can test out your candidates by asking yourself if this one facet of the relationship improved, would it fix most or all of the issues you wrote down in the first step?
3) PROSPECT for solutions: Based on the root cause you have identified, brainstorm a list of ideas that could help. This might include a discussion of your goals and expectations or a heart-to-heart talk with your manager. Perhaps you can set guidelines to help with micro-managing or set a scheduled routine meeting to stay on the same page.
4) ASK for other opinions: Talk to a detached confidante: your spouse, a friend, a mentor, a sponsor, or a Human Resources representative. Just be sure you are comfortable with this person and that they understand the need for confidentiality. This step is critical to ensure you are evaluating the situation fairly and without emotion, and that your approach to improving the situation is practical.
5) INITIATE a discussion with your manager: After reviewing the situation and possible solutions, you may decide you don’t need a discussion with your manager. However, remember that you raised this issue to yourself because of apprehensions or frustrations. Nervousness about having a conversation is not a good reason to shelve the talk. If it is truly an issue, it will likely fester until it becomes a bigger problem.
Instead, practice how you might open the discussion. You do not need to make a formal declaration. You may just open by asking your manager how she thinks things are going. Are there ways the two of you can raise the team’s performance by improving communication or alignment? This often invites open dialogue, during which you can mention your concerns in a constructive manner. Be sure not to make unilateral charges but instead offer positive steps you may take and invite your manager’s ideas. If the conversation doesn’t appear to be addressing the root cause or solutions you developed, raise them directly so you can make real progress.
Nearly all issues can be resolved or at least managed with communication if one person suggests a discussion and shares the willingness to talk. The biggest problems arise when neither party takes the initiative, in which case considerable grief usually lies ahead.
6) RAISE the issue to others: If a situation does become unbearable and direct communication has failed to improve the situation, don’t just let it lie. Schedule a private meeting with your Human Resources representative to discuss the issue. If there are irreconcilable differences, they may offer to mediate or propose other solutions.
A misaligned, or worse yet abrasive relationship, can be very destructive to your psyche and confidence not to mention your career development and company productivity. Ultimately, if despite best efforts the issue is unresolvable, seek the opportunity to apply for other roles in the company or elsewhere.
Despair Without REPAIR
After several years in an assignment, I was offered an exciting new position just as my manager departed. However, his replacement asked me to stay to lead a reorganization and a fresh approach. My sense of loyalty to the team and the ego boost of feeling indispensable led me to stay, foregoing the other opportunity. In hindsight, I did not think this decision through thoroughly.
Within a couple of months, it was clear that my values and styles were quite different from my new manager’s. She was rather harsh, disrespectful of the group’s expertise, and determined to push her change agenda without much consultation. My own pride, engrained style, and stubborn refusal to relent, paired with her ego and determination, meant we never had a meeting to put all these issues on the table and seek a path forward. Instead, the issues continued to grow until they became unbearable for both of us. Only four months after joining her team, I was relegated to projects until I landed my next assignment elsewhere in the company.
Several years later, as I prepared to retire, I arranged an amicable lunch with my former manager. Without the pressure of an employer-employee relationship, we both shared our frustrations. We quickly concluded that we both had good points and that we should have met for a discussion years ago. Perhaps such communication would have dispelled assumptions and conclusions we had both built up in our heads and enabled us to work together in a more productive manner. However, neither of us had worked through the process described here. We both endured many days and nights of frustration that might have been avoided.
Your relationship with your manager will always be the most important bond at work. As such, nurture it every day. Employ the REPAIR model before any issues become insurmountable. Your own challenges, successes, and tactics with each of your managers serve as a perfect training ground for the leader you wish to be.
This article is adapted from Steve Friedman’s award-winning leadership book for introverts, The Corporate Introvert: How to Lead and Thrive with Confidence. Check out more about the book’s stories and models and how you can buy your own copy here.
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Introversion often feels so alone and many of us assume no one else could feel this way. Contained in this book are many of the questions that have been asked, often by introverts trying to understand this personality trait that can at times govern our lives.
Hi Steve! I just wanted to say I'm incredibly thankful that I came across your blog. I currently have your [Q&A] booklet up on my work computer and every single line resonates with me. I've struggled my entire life with introversion, but your guide is helping me realize that I need to embrace it instead of feeling embarrassed! Anyways, your content is awesome and I'm planning on sharing some info with my team. -GK 2/8/2022
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