Rebecca Horan
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Brand Expert

We’re all feeling stretched pretty thin these days. But when you add managing a team to your list of responsibilities at work, it can feel like handling two jobs at once — especially if you haven’t yet mastered the art of keeping your department humming along like a well-oiled machine. Employees are routinely promoted into management positions without having received any prior management training. Your boss might be one of them. Or, she simply might have too much on her plate.

Whatever the reason, it can be tricky to get her attention when you want to. You might want to get her feedback on an urgent question, to call her attention to potential problems, or to simply get her to notice your accomplishments. 

Here’s where it gets complicated: the fact that feedback is an urgent matter to you doesn’t mean that it’s a priority for her. She probably has a number of fires to put out on any given day, so each time you pull her attention away from what she’s focused on, you run the risk of being seen as a distraction or a needy employee. 

The key to getting your supervisor’s attention without being annoying is rooted in three ideas: 

  • Developing a strong rapport and trusted relationship from the get-go
  • Being cognizant of the challenges he or she may be facing up the line of command
  • Being very selective about when, and on which issues, you need her attention. 

Here are three different scenarios in which you can easily get your boss’s attention without being annoying:

1. When a new boss comes on board.

Take some initiative! Think about what you would do to welcome and onboard someone who is reporting directly to you. Your new supervisor will appreciate a warm welcome and a trusted source to give her the lay of the land.

Be proactive in setting up a meeting, or even a lunch date, to give her an overview of in-progress departmental projects and upcoming goals. You’d be surprised at how much information new hires are not given and are expected to figure out for themselves, particularly at a senior level. You’ll stand out right from the start by being genuinely helpful and by being, most likely, the only person to take the reins in helping her get settled into her new position. Bottom line? People appreciate it when you make their life easier.

2. When your boss is so busy that he seems unaware of both departmental wins and challenges alike.

Once again, be proactive in setting up a status meeting, and make sure to get some follow-up meetings on the calendar. Promise to keep them brief - and make sure you follow through on that promise! The more organized and concise you can keep your updates, the better. Give him the headlines for the top three most important wins and challenges, and let him decide how much of an explanation he needs for each. Your supervisor will appreciate being kept aware of any issues that he might need to escalate, as well as any wins that he can share beyond the department.

3. When you need feedback on a project or have a quick question.

First, determine how urgently this feedback is needed. Is it truly something that needs her attention today? If so, then check in with her first thing in the morning using her preferred method of communication, whether it’s by email, phone, text, IM or a quick pop-in. Let her know what you need feedback on and suggest one or two potential times to meet up. You might say something like, “I understand you’re super busy today, so I’ll keep this very brief. Would it help if I sent you XYZ prior to our meeting?” Acknowledge her busyness and stress that you will not take too much of her time. Whenever possible, batch any items that need feedback so that you can cover it all in one meeting rather than having to track her down for each item.

Remember: how you handle these scenarios reflects back on your personal brand. If you become adept at managing up, you’ll not only make life easier for all involved, but you’ll be boosting your own brand equity. Definitely a win-win!

More on getting along with your boss: 

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Rebecca Horan is a brand strategy consultant who helps create enduring and differentiated brands that make people care. She loves helping business owners to find their voice and forge a meaningful connection with their audience.