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Establishing a Successful Relationship with Your Manager

I like feedback. Maybe it’s because in design school, I was encouraged to depend on critique to develop my projects. I feel more comfortable knowing exactly where I stand with someone, opposed to being trapped in an ambiguous fog of indecision and “I guess”-es. How else are you supposed to get better if you can’t identify your weaknesses?

When I started my Facebook internship between the summer of my junior and senior year of college, one point was made repeatedly clear: Have a good relationship with your manager (all interns were assigned an individual manager). But how? I was worried that I’d be stuck with that one manager I just could not get along with. Fortunately, I was wrong.

In the first meeting with my manager, I brought a list of questions. This included:

  • How do you prefer to communicate? (Over email, text, Facebook Messenger, etc.)
  • Are you a morning/night person?
  • Do you plan to be more hands on or off?
  • What’s an example of a situation where you’ve been stressed? How did you resolve it?
  • What would you say is the difference between a good strategist and a great one?
  • What’s your biggest pet peeve?

I’m not going to lie: preparing myself to ask these questions took an internal pep talk. It would have been easier to ask how long it would take to get used to the California weather or what was the best place to get lunch on the Facebook campus. I was determined however to prove that I cared about exceeding and working together to do so. Similar to ripping off a band-aid, the worst part was the anticipation.

Each following week, my manager and I had scheduled 0ne-on-ones. I typed an agenda and emailed it to her before each meeting, giving her time to anticipate my topics/questions/areas of concern. We’d begin with a review of the previous week and discuss how I was doing on my projects. At the end of each meeting, I’d conclude with the same three questions:

  1. What am I doing well?
  2. Where do you see an opportunity for my improvement?
  3. Is there something I can help you solve?

I received straightforward feedback because I asked directly. I didn’t need to hunt for contextual clues about my own performance in our conversations or ask others what my manager thought of me. Being upfront and direct was only uncomfortable once: the first time I asked these questions. Once we repeated these questions weekly, talking about performance became normal. Asking for this kind of feedback allowed for discussion about ways to improve.

Identifying strengths was equally important. Often, people notice habits in others that they appreciate but fail to acknowledge because it’s assumed the other person already knows they’re doing a good job. Towards the middle of my internship, my manager identified that I do a good job presenting the context of whatever project I’m working on when I present my work. This context included a brief summary of the product, the audience, its goals and what I needed feedback on. To me, providing this context was procedural. There was even a point where I wondered if it was helpful because no one said that it helped. Being told what you’re doing right is sometimes just as important as the opposite.

Sometimes, I’d overhear people saying things like, “I don’t know if my manager likes me,” or, “my manager and I don’t really talk.” I think what can stop a strong relationship between a manager and team member is lack of basic communication. It’s tempting to put on a show, as if you and your manager get along like best friends from day one, but that’s not how an organic relationship works, and certainly not what it will become if basic communication is forgone towards the beginning.

Bite the bullet. Ask the right questions to establish the framework of your relationship and watch how that basic foundation allows for a sustaining mentorship, flourishing overtime.

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