Contrarians & Managing Up
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
You know what really tickles my pickle? Being a contrarian. I like to disagree with people. It makes me feel smart. Or at the very least, it makes me feel better. There are a lot of instances in which being a contrarian might be pretty useful. People like me are far less likely to do things "the way they've always been done," and we're also far more likely to have fewer friends. I'm only joking a little.
I'm not really a contrarian unless someone is an asshole, and then I reckon they deserve it. The vegan who tries to shame me for eating my burger, for instance. I'll also lean into contrarianism if someone is simply stupid. The guy who claims he's an "alpha male," simply because he lifts heavy metal while wearing scuffed white Reeboks in an indoor gym. Or flat-earthers. Or far-right Republicans (that's a joke, Cheryl). I'm only moonlighting as a contrarian though, because I fully understand that I am almost always wrong about everything.
The other day I was on a plane, flying from Indianapolis to Atlanta to Orange County, CA. A girl pushed in front of me as we deboarded plane #1, as if any of us were going anywhere fast. I wanted to say something snarky, but instead I bit the inside of my cheek with a vengeance. She was young, and smelled like a strawberry air freshener that might be in a TJ Max changing room or a clean gas station. I really hated her, though. I really did. Planes are nothing but large metal hell-tubes specifically designed to drive me insane. I felt like a panther at the zoo, or maybe a domestic cat trapped in a small tile bathroom. Being in a plane for hours on end made the disagreeable contrarian in me incredibly itchy. I just wanted to fight someone, or scream, or both.
I like to disagree too, with people who always think they are right. Who is anyone to be so sure of anything, anyway? I once met a man with large biceps who was absolutely convinced that Paul McCarthy is not dead. I said, "maybe we're all dead and none of us know it." He seemed to like my idea, and that made me feel good.
There is usually someone at work who is like this-someone who always thinks they are right. If that person is above you in the workplace hierarchy, it's useful to "manage up." Managing up essentially means helping your manager feel useful and important in a kind and clear way. It could also mean respecting their authority, even when it's questionable or irrelevant. I once had a manager who gave very vague instructions, so my way of managing up was more or less to say, "I'm just a wee young girl with a pee-sized brain, and I need more clarity my dearest mid-level manager." It made him feel important, and he was more clear.
If there is someone at work who always thinks they are right and they're your peer, it's probably best to avoid them. You might try to warn them, "Hey Chad, that printer's going to start on fire if you keep igniting it." But if Chad doesn't listen, at least you'll get a good show.
Finally, if the person at work who thinks they are always right is someone "beneath" you in the not-so-useful hierarchy of things, you might try to help them understand how intolerable they are through some not-so-vague words and/or actions. One morning, Mike and I were out to breakfast, somewhere in Arizona. I'd run an especially difficult race the day before, and I was hungry. Our waitress was one of those no-nonsense types, and she was training another girl, who didn't have many marbles rolling around upstairs. "Don't worry honey," our waitress told this young, blank-faced girl, "you're not very smart but you're pretty. You'll do fine." As far as waitressing goes, prettiness might be useful, but so is knowing words. After our food came, we realized they hadn't brought our over-priced toast. We asked the blank-faced girl to fetch it, and she said, "Toast?" as if she'd never seen or heard of bread before. Sometimes I think about her when I can't sleep at night, and I wonder if she's learned.
The internet told me that managing up is a trendy buzzword right now, and that not all managers are competent, which seems obvious since most managers are human. But if you would actually like to manage up, here's how:
1. Don't come to your boss with a problem without also presenting a solution.
2. Adjust your communication style to fit theirs. Maybe they prefer phone calls to emails. Maybe they like to chit-chat before getting down to business. Maybe they have the personality of a brown paper bag. Either way, communicate with them in the manner they most like.
3. Share bad news as soon as possible. Also share good news so they know you're doing things.
4. Look for ways to be innovative and useful. Use your brain, or whatever you have up there.