Knowing Me, Knowing You: Part Two
The 5 Cs of the Report-Manager Relationship
Earlier this year, our CEO Simon wrote an article detailing the “Users’ Manuals” we issue to every new starter, each of which profiles their new line manager and how to work with them. This week, I’d like to share some steps I’ve developed as a report to make this relationship even smoother.
Relationships are hard. And I don’t just mean romantic ones — every meaningful relationship takes a good amount of maintaining. Ever heard this quote?:
Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.
This, for me, says it all. Dropping the ball at decisive moments might lose you that affinity you had with a lifelong friend — or even with a colleague at work, be it your peer, your manager, or your report.
Most articles online discuss personal and professional relationships as largely separate, with different needs and best practices. Very few, however, discuss the basic principles they share. In this short piece, I will be taking you through these elements, showing how a few universal truths can be applied to the very particular experience of a report in the workplace building a relationship with their manager.
I call these elements “The 5 Cs”.
This word crops up everywhere in the working world — and with good reason. Talk, talk, talk when something is bothering you! Keeping things quiet may lead to:
- Overthinking, which could impact your mental health on and off the job
- Procrastination, which could cost you and your team dearly when working on a project
Keeping your manager informed is your duty, and updates can range from the professional to the personal — whatever happens to be on your mind or affecting your work. (If your manager doesn’t show that they are concerned about your personal issues, they should not be your manager in the first place).
However, the information you relay may vary based on how close you are with your manager in the first place (especially if the issue is something personal). You might be new to the team, or simply unused to talking on that level, so a good starting point might be not to overshare at first. Instead, try exploring some of your smaller or less thorny problems to get accustomed to how your manager receives information, processes it, and provides solutions.
Another quote I love is:
It takes two hands to clap.
(After all, with one hand it’s just a slap!) In other words, it takes two people understanding each other for a relationship to work. Communicating alone is not enough: understanding the context behind each other’s words will set your relationship on the right course.
Always try to see things from the other party’s perspective, not just your own — even if you’re the person’s report. The answers and solutions your manager provides might not fix everything at once, but do you as a report understand what else they are currently facing or dealing with?
Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
Many people, unfortunately, only factor in their own situation, and rarely if ever truly consider what might be going on with the other person. A more solid foundation comes from both sides exercising empathy — taking into account one another’s current state of mind or even physical fatigue.
Examples might include asking yourself:
What is he going through?
She looks stressed.
This could be the spark you need to readjust your expectations or give people the time they need to help you properly.
After reaching a clear understanding on both sides, it’s time to put thoughts and words into action.
The first thing to do is to list out all the possible outcomes that both sides have in mind. (If your manager is especially senior, this still shouldn’t always mean they have a monopoly on the final decision. You should have the right to pitch in here too — and they should want to hear it.)
This enables both you and your manager to see each other’s thought process, as well as how you both generate solutions. This is may also give them the chance to be explicit about other challenges they are facing and why they are coming up with the solutions they are. You could then ask yourself: is there anything you can do to help them help you?
Lay everything out on the table, ensuring every decision is thoroughly discussed and the reason behind it explained.
If there’s no best outcome for both sides, the next thing to do is to pick the best of the worst and discuss potential repercussions.
At this stage, things might flow less well because they now involve a degree of conflict. (Ah, yet another “C.”) This is the part where your relationship is tested. It’s not just romantic relationships that reach these crossroads: there are lessons here for report-manager relations too.
However, as mentioned above, discussing repercussions will help mitigate the damage as honesty is expected to play a huge part. If you’re not intending to be honest, there’s no reason to have the discussion in the first place.
Why must x be done this way?
Why do you think it should be done this way?
These are some of the questions that might be asked at this stage. Still, though, answering these might require more than just a practical approach — which brings us to the final “C”…
There’s nothing wrong with being practical in the ways discussed above. Actually, it’s one of the best things you can be, because instead of being too delicate or hopeful in approach, both report and manager remain realistic.
However, it is almost certain the decision won’t feel right unless it’s accompanied by what makes us human: being humane. Otherwise, it may come off as empty and possibly even a little harsh. When a decision is made, whichever end of the exchange you’re on, apply it with empathy.
As the giver, show that you care about the other person’s wellbeing, and if there’s anything else you can help with. Offer words of advice or support. Say you’re sorry if you have to.
As the receiver, we might not even know what the giver has sacrificed or will be sacrificing in order to provide a solution, so a simple “thank you” does wonders — and if the solution is not favourable, a “thank you for doing your best” is great too (without sarcasm!).
Conclusion (Not part of the actual 5 Cs…)
The main takeaway here is that after you understand how your manager is, how they operate, how they process their thoughts, you’re more likely to develop a stronger connection. The best possible outcome? They may also have gotten the same thing from it and feel more comfortable with you.
Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.
It is not easy to achieve this level of understanding, but learning to develop it little by little is a great start. This should then pave the way for future discussions to be even more fruitful.
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions or comments, give me a shout below — I’d love to hear them!