Managing Up – Quick Tips
Five quick tips to establish an effective working relationship with the person you report to.
Set an Efficient Communication Early On
Efficient communication is critical for establishing a good working relationship. Maximize your knowledge on working styles of the person you report to, his/her goals, and the constraints s/he faces. Pay attention to the language, word choice, or communication style of the person; establishing effective communication early on is critical for good working relationship, so ask important questions: “how would you like to receive information from me?” Ask about how s/he prefers you to communicate: email? voicemail? paper documents? texts?
Sample scripts for effective communication
- How would you like to receive information from me?
- How do you prefer to communicate? Email, voicemail, paper document, text, or in-person discussion?
- How often do you want to receive updates?
This information will prepare you with effective and appropriate strategies for working effectively with the person.
Frame Your Need Around Common Interests and Goals
Learn as much as you can about the person whom you report to, and his or her priorities, goals, and challenges. Invest time to build a good working relationship within the available time constraints: ask about his or her job and what he or she seeks most from you in your role. Clearly understand your own interests to find the common ground between yours and his or hers. If you also know yourself and focus on communicating through common interests, you will have more successful meetings than if you go in with a “me-first” approach. Avoid egocentric presentations; instead, reframe ideas and present them in a way that highlights how your interests align and why what you are seeking is relevant to his or her goals. Remember that human beings have strong hypocrisy detectors! This is not about manipulation or being false: the ultimate purpose is to respect time and resource and to achieve institutional goals through efficient communication.
Expect Some Difficulties
It is reasonable to expect difficulties working among high achievers. Anticipate some by-products of high confidence in your interactions and be prepared for them. Take a step back and focus on solving problems and addressing issues together rather than seeing your interactions as a power struggle. You have both personal and institutional/role relationships, and maintaining cordial personal interactions and seeking a problem-solving stance in alignment with those to whom you report will make it more likely that you can help your unit advance at the same time. Your responsibility to serve as an advocate for your unit may not always align with the constraints and larger picture faced by the person to whom you report, so it can be a delicate task to walk the line between being a good advocate for your unit and being a good institutional citizen. There may be a steep learning curve about when to keep asking and when it is your duty to take adverse news back to your unit.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
One-to-one time with the person you report to may be scarce. Your responsibility is to prepare. Efficient meetings are appreciated by everyone. When you meet, have a clear idea in mind of your goals and what you’re presenting with a tangible action plan; where necessary, and especially for difficult topics, prepare personal scripts beforehand. To maximize the likelihood of prompt and constructive responses, do not approach only with a problem. No one wants a tangled mess left on his or her desk, with the tag line: “Over to you, boss.” Your job is to get the most out of her or his input during the meeting, and work to solutions. If there are options in a situation, be ready to effectively present and articulate them. If you are to persuade the person, clearly present your argument with supporting data. Whining up may release your anxiety on an issue, but it is never an effective way to make your opinions heard.
Policies, Procedures, and Principals Are Your Friends
Approach your duties with principled positions; don’t make it about personalities. Familiarize yourself with institutional rules, boundaries, and control systems. Take the time to learn where the limits are drawn and make sure your requests or proposals are consistent with them–or build a strong case for an exception.
© C.K. Gunsalus. Licensed through the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, 2017
Listening and Asking Questions – Quick Tips
Five quick tips for understanding the nuances and benefits of listening in the workplace.
- Listen to the people who work with and for you. This is an essential duty and an invaluable skill in leadership. Knowing their minds is crucial to building a sense of trust and community with those people, and you will gain important information and new perspectives in the process.
- Listening is a powerful tool for increasing your stock at work, at any position. It helps you ensure you are looking out for all the members of your team, as well as your external and internal stakeholders.
- If the people who work under you are comfortable bringing their ideas, concerns and issues to you, they will generally be happier and more productive, and you will know about problems and potential problems sooner. It is important for people to know who they can go to if they have a problem. When the boss is regarded as a good listener, everyone is more at ease.
Active Listening vs Passive Listening
- There are different kinds of listening and they are best suited to different kinds of conversations. Whether you need to employ active listening or passive listening depends largely on what you believe the other person’s goals are in the conversation…
- Is this a discussion in which you need to learn something? Perhaps gather more information or more perspectives regarding an incident? This indicates that you should ask particular questions to draw out details and paraphrase their statements to confirm understanding.
- Are you having a conversation where someone is upset about something? Maybe the person just needs to vent, or perhaps he or she is just seeking your moral support or sympathy? Such a conversation may still involve questions to confirm understanding, and may generally need more simple responses through body language and affirmation.
- Sometimes it is enough for people to simply feel they have been heard; other times you will need to invest more actively in the conversation to glean more details, and confirm facts.
Good Follow Up Questions are a Part of Good Listening
- Particularly in difficult conversations, try to focus on asking follow up questions rather than just reacting to what you are hearing. This can be an effective means of keeping the conversation steady and avoiding escalation.
- Simple questions like “And then what happened?” or “Can you tell me more about that?” serve not only to elicit more information, they also acknowledge your engagement and presence in the moment with the speaker.
- Phrasing questions in an open-ended manner promotes purity in what you’re being told. When your queries are leading, you may find you wind up hearing what you want to hear, rather than what the person is really trying to say.
- Take care not to “weaponize” your questions. Do not use them as a means of attack or to elicit “gotcha!” moments. Cultivate curiosity in the way you ask questions.
- e.g.: if some aspect of a project has not been progressing at the pace you expected, asking “I’m trying to understand how we got here, can you walk me through these events?” is an effective way of delivering your assessment in a way that promotes cooperation and elicits information. Asking “what were you thinking when you did X??” delivers the same assessment but immediately puts the person on the defensive.
Listening is influencing
- The single most powerful way to influence people is to listen to them. It helps to build rapport, indicating that you care about them and what they have to say. It is an efficient way of accumulating information and reducing misunderstandings.
- Very few of us are ever heard clearly or truly understood. If you are able to make those who come to you with their issues feel that way, you will increase your value immeasurably in the eyes of your colleagues.
- When you are regarded as a good listener, people tend to listen more carefully to you as well. You are able to convey your ideas more effectively and present more convincing arguments to others. The best listeners in an organization are also frequently the biggest influencers.
- Listening carefully also pays huge dividends in negotiations, allowing you to focus on the interests of all parties involved and find potential extra value to bring to the table.
Nonverbal Aspects of Listening
- Body language plays an important role in conversations, and is often overlooked or not thought about at all because many of its effects are not obvious … some are even subconscious. In a surprisingly short time span, body language can aid you in establishing rapport and trust with another person, or antagonize the person without you even realizing it.
- The orientation of your shoulders and center of mass can indicate your level of engagement in a conversation. Are you facing the other person? Angling to the side can give the impression you are not fully focused, not truly listening, or perhaps don’t care about the situation as much as you could.
- Likewise, your posture and sitting position give off signals about your level of interest. Slouching and leaning back can make one seem unconcerned or aloof, whereas leaning in too far forward can come off as aggressive or even irritated.
- Head movement and eye contact convey a lot of information about your current state. Not responding at all and never making eye contact indicates no enthusiasm for the conversation, while staring too hard, fidgeting or nodding vigorously appears frenetic. As always, maintaining a balance is the goal, between showing you are engaged and exhibiting a sense of calm.
- Not all conversations call for the same uses of body language. For example, if you are discussing data or examining materials, orienting yourself towards those assets rather than the person you are with can help to keep the conversation on point, or de-escalate when things are getting tense. As always, assessing whether your body language is effective is best done by watching for the impact you are having.
- One of the simplest means of establishing rapport via your body language is to mirror your partner. This doesn’t mean mimicking his or her every move. It is about adopting similar sitting positions, angling your head the same way, or using shared styles of speech. Two people in rapport will often exhibit these similarities unconsciously
©C.K. Gunsalus. Licensed through the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, 2017
Issue Spotting – 5 Quick Tips
1. Don’t take it personally
People coming to you with problems and complaints may often be upset or agitated. Their distress may well have nothing to do with you as an administrator, but is simply a byproduct of their familiarity and proximity to the issue in question. To the maximum extent possible, try not to get defensive when they complain and do not jump to conclusions about their causes or solutions. Thank the person for reporting the problem – better you know about it than not, especially if it turns out to be a misunderstanding – and then set about collecting the facts.
2. Never act on a complaint without hearing all sides of the story
Many complaints and problems stem from people perceiving the same set of facts in different ways. Get as full a picture of any situation as possible by telling all involved that the issue has been brought to your attention and that you need to collect more information on it. Avoid accusations while gathering information, simply inform people in a low-key manner that an issue has been brought to your attention and you are attempting to collect basic information about it.
3. Follow up!
Just as problems can arise from a difference in perspective, a meeting with someone bringing a complaint to you can be remembered differently by different parties. If you have concerns that your advice was not clearly heard, send a short note or email about your meeting summarizing what was said and what subsequent actions were discussed. Good news can be put in writing, but bad news should be delivered in person.
4. Never attribute to malice that which incompetence will explain
The person bringing a complaint to you may have concerns or biases which are deeply rooted and possibly irrelevant to the actual issue. Their own opinions of another individual or group may color their interpretation of what happened. Sometimes what seems like intentionally bad behavior is actually the result of inattention, inaction, miscommunication or ineptitude. These may require dealing with in their own right, but do not assume malicious intent without clarifying the situation. Ask questions and repeat back answers to confirm your understanding.
5. Say what you’ll do and do what you say
Once you have decided on a course of action, no matter what it is, follow through on it when you say you will. Nothing will compromise your credibility more than to make commitments you do not fulfill or to declare boundaries you do not ultimately enforce. Stick to your plan or people may end up doubting you in future situations, making your job more difficult in the long run. Follow up on your actions as you do them, keeping each party apprised of developments. Leaving distraught or anxious people hanging can make matters worse – what they imagine might be happening during that time is often worse than the reality.
© Jeremy D. Meuser and the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, 2017
Incivility and Bullying – Quick Tips
Incivility and bullying are damaging to academic unit culture, collegiality, and productivity. If left unchecked, these behaviors can become the norm. Creating a culture of civility that minimizes these behaviors is the leaders’ job. Such a culture doesn’t occur by accident; positive professional interactions must be modeled, encouraged and rewarded. If cultivated and maintained, a positive culture supports creativity, better employee health, greater levels of cooperation, and higher retention of top performers.
Incivility and Bullying in Academic Units
- We begin with a brief description of incivility and bullying behaviors effectively summarized by Bob Sutton in his “dirty dozen”:
- Violation of personal space
- Unsolicited touching
- Colleagues do not always get along. Complete consensus is not required; for the academic mission to be fulfilled, disagreements and antipathy must be professionally bounded. It is possible for an otherwise positive unit culture to be undermined or destroyed through negative, uncivil, or anti-social behaviors if these are not confined and limited.
- In a 2016 US survey, 64 percent of academic respondents said they have been the target of faculty incivility; 77 percent said they have witnessed someone else being targeted (Gluckman, 2017). Yet it is rarely reported—only an estimated 1-6% of employees who experience incivility ever Uile a complaint (Cortina & Magley, 2009).
- Examples of damaging incivility include:
- Unrealistic expectations for responses and requests
- Continued complaining
- Making belittling or denigrating comments
- Engaging in disrespectful meeting conduct: eye-rolling, negative side comments, etc.
- Faculty dismissing or disrespecting staff, viewing them as lower class group members
- Public shaming or blaming
- Taking credit for work done by someone else
- Ignoring the contributions of colleagues
- Forming silent coalitions that do not surface disagreements and express them in a passive-aggressive manner
- Examples of bullying include:
- Expressing rude or aggressive judgment of others
- Pushing relentlessly for one’s own views
- Being intolerant of other perspectives or positions
- Another type of of bullying, victim bullying, superficially appears passive and considerate: the perpetrator expresses excessive concern about his or her fear and victimization, and the effect is to put others on the defensive and advance the priorities of the “victim” in a way that shields him or her from questioning.
When Incivility and Bullying go Unchecked, It Is Costly
- Unchecked incivility escalates and spreads because it sets the norm for “how we do it here”—it provides evidence that incivility is what works if one wishes to succeed in the immediate environment.
- Endemic uncivil conduct diminishes cohesion, commitment, and communication. It can aggravate disagreements into the development of factions. It makes it harder to recruit and retain top performers, and spreads hostility and division.
- Rude, uncivil, and unprofessional behavior can be costly for organizations through reduced performance, productivity, and creativity, as well as increased distraction and negative emotions (Cortina & Magley, 2009).
- The effects of incivility on individuals accumulate and can raise stress levels, cause health problems, increase absenteeism, and lower achievement (Sliter, Sliter, & Jex, 2012). It can lead even to acts of violence.
- The effects of incivility generally, and bullying specifically, are to distort communication and make it harder for certain people to express some or any views without fear. Even more seriously, whole views or positions can simply get excluded even from consideration. Incivility thus works against one of the main
goals of an academic community: idea generation. Creating and maintaining a respectful research, teaching, and learning environment enhances collegial relationships and creates psychological safety, thus supporting increased creativity and productivity.
How it Spreads: The Contagion Effect
- Incivility and bullying flourish where:
- the risks of exposure are low; and
- the likelihood of being held accountable is low.
- If faculty and staff see these behaviors and see no intervention, the behaviors are likely to spread. This contagion is dangerous.
- An individual’s emotions, perceptions, and behaviors can be “caught” by others in the group through social contagion.
- Negative emotions and behaviors are more contagious, and can be more powerful, than positive behaviors.
- Uncivil behavior can, over time, become the group norm even if initially only deployed by one or a few group members.
- Be aware of your own behavior as a leader. Incivility from your unit members can spread to you, influencing how you behave. If you model incivility as a leader, it will increase the contagion effect within the unit, hastening the spread of these behaviors. Incivility from a leader is even more powerful and deleterious than incivility from peers (Cortina & Magley, 2009).
Establishing Community Norms: Leadership Action Plan
- A culture of civility doesn’t occur by accident; positive academic and professional interactions must be modeled, encouraged and rewarded.
- Action—or lack of action—by authority figures and opinion leaders can unintentionally reward uncivil behavior, and thus encourage it.
- Good administrative hygiene matters: communicate expectations about how members of a unit should interact with each other, especially in disagreements, and reinforce those expectations.
- Leaders who model courteous, respectful professional conduct help set and enforce community norms. Members of the unit (and beyond) are watching.
- Listen and interact respectfully:
- Frequently and regularly check for understanding, for example by saying “Let me see if I understood correctly…”
- Ask open-ended questions that begin with a request, such as “Tell me more about…”
- Restate what was heard to ensure understanding, and demonstrate active listening.
- Establish meeting protocols: Step in if conduct is over the line, and Uirmly and respectfully ask for inappropriate comments to be rephrased to be more constructive and actionable.
- Do not permit insults or belittling of others in meetings. Develop personal scripts to address these.
- Provide opportunities for quiet members to speak.
- Be vigilant: Many of your colleagues will not report incidents. Instead, it is more common (and the path of least resistance) to ignore or avoid unpleasantness. Many will seek to re-frame incidents of incivility as “no big deal” (Cortina & Magley, 2009).
Respond to All Reports Seriously
- Prevention is better than reaction. Sometimes, though, it is too late for anything other than responding. If you are too late to prevent, make sure you respond.
- Practice how to respond effectively, including preparing personal scripts for speaking up, for asking for comments to be reframed, or for when you hear concerns about uncivil or bullying behavior (NCPRE, 2017). For example:
- Your remarks about [colleague] are making me uncomfortable. Let’s stick to facts in our staff
- I understand you do not like [colleague]. Can you explain your complaint again without using
sarcasm? It will help me understand it better.
- I am sorry you had these negative experiences. We want a workplace where we all feel valued. I will think over my course of action and get back to you by [timeframe].
- Your remarks about [colleague] are making me uncomfortable. Let’s stick to facts in our staff
- Cultivate open communication. All members of a unit should be aware of the appropriate channels for assistance in dealing with uncivil or bullying behavior.
- Speak to your faculty and staff about having disputes civilly and respectfully. Encourage them to take their issues to the person closest to the problem first, and offer assistance (impartial third parties, for example) to assist in facilitating difficult conversations if necessary.
- Apply consistent consequences for the same conduct. This is essential for establishing and maintaining healthy social norms in the unit.
Cortina, L. M., & Magley, V. J. (2009). Patterns and profiles of responses to incivility in the workplace. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 14(3), 272–288.
Gluckman, Nell. (2017). You’re not the only one getting put down by your colleagues, survey finds. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrived from: http://www.chronicle.com/article/You-re-Not-the-Only-One/239756
National Center for Professional & Research Ethics (Producer). (2017, June 28). Personal scripts [Video file]. Retrived from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KK2YYtdvpak&feature=youtu.be
Sliter, M., Sliter, K., & Jex, S. (2012). The employee as a punching bag: The effect of multiple sources of incivility on employee withdrawal behavior and sales performance. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 33(1), 121-139.
Sutton, R. (2007). The no asshole rule: Building a civilized workplace and surviving one that isn’t. New York, NY: Business Plus.
© C.K. Gunsalus. Licensed through the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, 2017
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Our Inside Higher Ed columns focus on academic leadership challenges and tools for strengthening shared governance. To learn about new columns as they are published, follow us on Twitter or on LinkedIn.
Below is the list of our published entries:
Nicholas C. Burbules, C. K. Gunsalus, Robert A. Easter and BrandE Faupell have created a tool to help you diagnose problems in your academic unit and identify ways to improve it.
How can academic leaders foster a culture of excellence in their departments and other units? Robert A. Easter, C. K. Gunsalus, Sebastian Wraight, Nicholas C. Burbules and Jeremy D. Meuser suggest some specific actions to take.
C. K. Gunsalus, Nicholas C. Burbules, Robert A. Easter and Jeremy D. Meuser recommend five steps for managing conflicts and disputes.
Dysfunctional departments have identifiable patterns, and faculty members share some responsibility for dealing with them, argue Nicholas C. Burbules, C. K. Gunsalus, and Robert A. Easter.
Robert A. Easter, C. K. Gunsalus and Nicholas C. Burbules offer advice to increase the likelihood you’ll leave things better than you found them — as well as remain healthy and balanced yourself.
They are often at work in troubled academic units and in how people react — or fail to react — to the problems, write Sebastian Wraight, C. K. Gunsalus, and Nicholas Burbules.
Sebastian Wraight, Nicholas C. Burbules, C. K. Gunsalus, and Robert A. Easter explore how to reduce the problems cognitive biases can produce in your academic department.
It is crucial in a vibrant academic unit, and you can cultivate it in some specific ways, advise Elizabeth A. Luckman, C. K. Gunsalus, Nicholas C. Burbules, and Robert A. Easter.
It can make the difference between a high-performing collegial unit and one riven by factions, rivalries or unproductive friction, argue Elizabeth A. Luckman, Robert A. Easter, C. K. Gunsalus and Nicholas C. Burbules.
Effective leadership is rooted in understanding the leader you currently are as well as the leader you need to become for your unit to thrive, write Elizabeth A. Luckman, Nicholas C. Burbules, C. K. Gunsalus and Robert A. Easter.
It can help you build a healthy and productive unit in a least three significant ways, write Sebastian Wraight, Nicholas C. Burbules, Elizabeth A. Luckman and C. K. Gunsalus.
Cognitive Bias: Quick Tips (PDF)
One possible framework for developing good decision-making habits
Crisis Management As A Leader: Quick Tips (PDF)
How to manage a public relations crisis effectively
Michael Loui on Making Difficult Decisions
Andrew Alleyne Decision Making and OODA Loops
Billy Tibrizi on Making Decisions
Barb Wilson on Data-Informed Decision-Making
Barb Wilson, Executive Vice President and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Illinois, describes some of her strategies for decision-making.
Bob Easter, President Emeritus of the University of Illinois, discusses the fundamentals of decision-making as a leader.
Jump to section: Dealing with Challenges to Your Decisions, Making Merit Based Decisions, Decisions About a Group, Making Good Decisions, Understanding the Impact of Your Decisions, What Decisions Should You Make?, When to Decide, A Tough Decision Well Made, Have a Process for Making Decisions, The Role of Analysis, Finding Balance as a Leader
Strategic leadership relates to making organizationally relevant decisions that go beyond the individual unit.
Difficult situations at work are easy to ignore, but this often leads to ethical failures. Becoming more comfortable managing difficult situations will lead to more ethical decision-making and a more ethical culture.
These videos are part of a series of videos on Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) produced by the Office of Research, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
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