The Great Resignation has meant not only millions of workers leaving jobs, but millions of workers starting new jobs, too, with new rules, expectations, and relationships to navigate. Of those relationships, among the most challenging -- and impactful -- is the relationship with supervisors.
The skill of navigating this relationship is often referred to as managing up. I like to include the concept of "face" in this framework, which places dignity, trust, and respect for all parties at the forefront.
Face is a centuries-old Chinese concept of personal dignity. When we "lose face," we lose some of our dignity and self-esteem. When we "save face," we recover it. We can "honor face" for others by helping them build that dignity and self-esteem. In this way, face serves as a kind of social currency, allowing us to have a deeper awareness of how much trust we have built in a relationship.
Trust is the most crucial element in employee/boss relationships. The following tips can help new employees build that trust, placing a lens of "face" on the tactical skills of managing up.
1. Build alignment on priorities and expectations
First things first: Get on the same page as your boss. Understand their top priorities and make sure your work aligns with those goals. This isn't a one-time conversation, as priorities often change. Checking in with your boss proactively can ensure you stay aligned. Know what your boss expects from you in terms of work performance and work diligently to meet or even exceed those expectations.
2. Establish communication systems
Learn how your boss prefers to communicate. Do they pick up the phone for day-to-day communication, or do they prefer emails or texts? Establish a system for information updates, too, defining frequency, format, and level of detail. Do they want a once-a-week bulleted list, or an in-depth daily report? By seeking this information early in the relationship, you'll avoid miscommunications and misunderstandings -- which can lead to losing face -- and show that you are attuned to your new boss's needs, which honors face and helps build trust.
3. Meet deadlines and commitments
It seems basic, but establishing that you're reliable and dependable gives your new boss peace of mind. Take stock of your time management skills. What do you need to do to ensure you don't miss deadlines or let details slip through the cracks? In the case of a possible missed deadline, early communication is key: Be transparent with your boss ahead of time and work on a solution (rescheduling, additional support) together.
4. Offer solutions to problems
When problems inevitably arise, bring them to your boss along with possible solutions. Present solutions in a way that helps your boss analyze available options, and communicates you've done the work to think things through: "Here's the situation with X. I've thought about A, B, and C, and I think we should do C because ___. Does that sound good to you?" Over time, you'll build your own problem-solving skills, too.
5. Seek and take constructive feedback well
Feedback is key for continuous growth and improvement. It lets us know when we're making progress and when we need to make adjustments. When presented with feedback, accept it with a positive attitude, embracing the feedback as a gift. This can help your boss be even more invested in your growth.
6. Don't cause your boss to lose face
The trust you've built with your new boss can quickly evaporate if you cause them to lose face -- by questioning them, correcting them, or trying to upstage them in public. If you spot an error that needs correcting, deliver the feedback respectfully in private. If you unintentionally cause your boss to lose face, mitigate the damage with a sincere apology and a promise to never repeat the mistake.
7. Find opportunities to honor face
The act of honoring face builds self-esteem and dignity for someone else. You can do this for your new boss by publicly giving or sharing credit on accomplishments and accolades. But honoring face doesn't have to be public -- showing appreciation for your boss's everyday support, guidance, and advice can do the same. If we think of face as currency, these small actions are like deposits in a bank, building enough "face" to cover any future, unintentional withdrawals.
With so much to learn, a new job can feel overwhelming. Remember to keep face in mind as you manage up -- you'll enjoy a relationship based on trust that can help you both thrive in those early days and beyond.