The Simple Secret to Building a Great Relationship With Your Boss

What do developers/programmers expect from their manager/supervisor? originally appeared on Quorathe place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Edmond Lau, Author of The Effective Engineer, on Quora:

Everyone will have different assumptions and expectations of their manager and want different things out of the relationship.

That’s why the most important thing to do with any manager (or more generally with any relationship) is to explicitly design the relationship. What do you most want to get of your job, and how can your manager support you in that goal? What do you see as your next level or area of growth? And how would you like your manager to give you feedback and challenge you? And similarly, what does your manager expect from you?

Oftentimes, I’ll see engineers make assumptions about their managers and never have an explicit conversation around what they want out of the relationship.

And without an explicit design, it’s easy to fall into default, suboptimal patterns.

Maybe your default is just to walk into a one-on-one conversation with your manager and give status updates — updates that could have just as easily been communicated asynchronously via email, Quip, Asana, or some other project management tool.

Maybe your default is to bring in whatever technical problems you’re facing that week and ask your manager for advice. That might meet your short-term needs, but what do you actually want of the relationship long-term?

Maybe your default is to ask for more insight into how the rest of the team and the company is doing. Your curiosity is satisfied, but are you getting what you want during your time at the company?

There’s nothing wrong with these patterns — as long as they’re what you and your manager consciously choose and want to spend your time doing.

The problem comes when we don’t ask for what we actually want and when we assume that this default is what the other person wants.

Because if you don’t ask for what you want, how will people know? How would your manager know the best way to spend time and energy supporting your goals?

I learned to do this more rigorously when I started coaching engineers. Whenever I coach engineers, I’ll spend the start of any coaching conversation designing our alliance. What do I expect from them during and between sessions? What do they expect from me? I might explicitly design our conversations, for example, by sharing that I’ll periodically interrupt — not to be rude, but to ensure that we stay focused on their agenda and their goals. All of this design work then sets the stage for a more productive conversation where we are each getting our needs met, rather than wasting energy and time assuming things that aren’t true.

One trap that’s easy to fall into is believing that it’s your manager’s responsibility to guide you through all this. And yes, it’s wonderful when we have a manager who’s also a great coach. But the truth is that you are ultimately responsible for your own growth. You’re responsible for the spheres of your work and your life that you can influence. And you can shape the conversations that you have with your manager.

You might be thinking that you’ve done the same one-on-ones for so long that it’s too late to change them. Or you might be asking yourself, “When’s the right time to have this conversation?” The answer is during your next one-on-one.

The strongest relationships are continually being designed, because our wants, our needs, our dreams, and our environments are always changing.

Start brainstorming some of the things you’d want to get out of your relationship with your manager — it doesn’t have to be a perfect list, just a starting point for conversation. Then go into your next meeting, and tell your manager, “I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to get out of this relationship, and I’d like to have an explicit conversation around it.”

Clarify the expectations and wants you have, and clear any assumptions by stating them upfront.

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