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May 03, 2023
Work Appropriate
Managing Up with Alaina Fuld

In This Episode

If your boss is making your life hard, you’ve probably heard the advice to “manage up.” Should everyone be spending more time cultivating their managing up skills? Or should managers just be spending more time figuring out what’s actually going on in their department? Alaina Fuld, Sr. Manager for Communications & Community Impact at Brooks Running (and one of AHP’s BFFs), joins host Anne Helen Petersen for tips on work with your boss to get what you need.

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TRANSCRIPT

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Hi, everyone. This is Work Appropriate and I’m your host Anne Helen Petersen. [music plays] The very first time that I heard the phrase managing up, it was in reference to a colleague who didn’t seem to spend a ton of time working but somehow kept getting promoted within the workplace. I remember asking a different colleague, what is the deal with redacted dude’s name? It seems like he gets pretty much everything he wants. This person’s reply when it comes to managing up, he is legendary. That story is a pretty perfect example of most people’s ambivalence about managing up a term that we’re going to explore at length in this episode. But think about it. This guy may have been great at convincing the leaders of the org that I was working for that he was doing a great job. But is that actually the same thing as doing a great job? Maybe it was. If he was getting resources and recognition and freedom for that department. Maybe everyone should be spending more time cultivating their managing up skills. Or maybe managers should be spending more time figuring out what’s actually going on in their department. And maybe there’s no need for managing up. To work through all of this ambivalence. I wanted to talk to a person who’s taught me a lot about the various strategies of managing up and about their organizational pitfalls. Someone with a lot of insight and experience who’s observed how managing up differs across nonprofits and academia and the corporate world. It just so happens that this person is also my best friend. [laughs] So if you sense that sort of intimacy, the sort that comes from over 20 years of friendship and talking about a whole lot of jobs along the way, that’s why. [music plays]

 

Alaina Fuld: My name is Alaina Fuld, and I’m the Senior Manager for Communications & Community Impact at Brooks Running. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: All right. So [laughter] we’re friends. We’ve been friends since we were 18. 

 

Alaina Fuld: I don’t know you. [laughter]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: We have worked together at the writing center in college. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Right. We’re colleagues.

 

Anne Helen Petersen: It’s the only time we’ve worked together. But we have talked like a ton about work. We talk about celebrity gossip, talk about gummy candy. We talk about running, and we talk about work and our friends. You’re here today, though, to talk about managing up. And can you define managing up? I feel like you’re the person who actually first told me what this even was. 

 

Alaina Fuld: I mean, I think charitably, managing up is helping your manager understand what you’re working on, what your priorities are, what roadblocks you’re running into, really empowering them to be your advocate. Because, you know, you just you don’t know what you don’t know. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: And so I think in the best circumstances, managing up is really giving your leader or your leadership team the tools that they need to advocate for your work, your priorities, and you as an employee. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Okay so  you keep using this term in power, which I feel like [laughter] is something that you also hear in like relationship counseling sometimes. You’re like, empower your partner to do the thing that makes life easier for both of you or like give them language or tools to essentially be better at their job at being your partner. So what’s the less charitable understanding then?

 

Alaina Fuld: I think it’s basically overcoming someone’s lack of attention or lack of knowledge and really almost propping them up. Right. If your leadership isn’t aware or your leader isn’t aware of what you’re doing and you’re having to feed them all of that information and to feed them knowledge, and then they’re taking that and using it to burnish their own reputation in a company or in an organization. I think that’s the bad version of it. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: And I think a partnership is a good phrase to use because the other part of managing up in a good situation, it should be reciprocal, where your manager is also then rewarding and recognizing all of that work and all of that intellectual property or work product that you’re generating and really taking responsibility for their role that they play in your own success and your own morale. So if it’s only going in one direction, I think it can be really negative. If it’s going both directions and it’s a true relationship, then it can be really positive and a part of a successful working relationship. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So right now you work for Brooks. Before that, you worked for a long time in various nonprofit capacities. Before that, though [laughter] this is how like our first job out of college, you worked for a nanny agency, and I feel like you actually had to refine the skill of managing up in that job because it was a very small workplace. And you had a boss who was doing a lot. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Gosh [laughter] I didn’t. I didn’t think we were going to go that far back. Yeah. I mean, I was really young and it was very small. Very, very small team. Two or three people. Four people, max, depending on the time. And I was given a lot of responsibility, which can be a good thing. What I thought you were going to ask about the nanny thing is I think nannies have to manage up— 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Oh constantly. [laughter] 100%. 

 

Alaina Fuld: That’s. I thought that’s where you were going to go with it, is like. And I was a nanny, too. And. And you were too. Which hopefully your listeners already know. I’m sorry if I just let that cat out of the bag. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: No it’s good. 

 

Alaina Fuld:  But, you know, you’re trying to do your job in someone’s home and they’re the parent. They have all the authority, they have all the control, and yet you really need them to partner with you effectively if you’re going to be good at your job. So I think that’s like the ultimate managing up. Maybe that’s why I’m I’m more comfortable with the concept than I would be otherwise. [laughter]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: No totally. I know when you’re a nanny, you’re also trying to convince the parents to do things that will make your life easier when you are with the children. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yes. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Like trying to just sing the praises of consistent scheduling. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: It’s just interesting how I think sometimes we talk about managing up as this like exclusively corporate jargony scenario when it’s any situation where there’s a power differential and someone is in charge of your promotion, your pay, like how you were treated, all sorts of things.  

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah. Anytime you’re employed by someone and they have the authority to terminate your employment, there’s a power differential. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Alaina Fuld: My nonprofit work, I work at a number of nonprofits, but the last one before Brooks, I was at a nonprofit that was within a university, that was a state entity. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: So it was the ultimate layers and also had a board because we had a 501(c)(3) part of our museum. And then the museum itself was managed by the university but served as a essentially a state agency. So it was the ultimate matrix of managing up. [laughs] And we were trying to do this really big project. We were trying to build a new facility and raise the money for it and build the awareness and the engagement in the community to get that project done. So I think that was a really good example. And you’re working within these really entrenched systems of bureaucracy and leadership and processes. And so I think going to for profit, I mean there’s pros and cons, but in some ways it seemed much more direct. At least, you know, the people. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: That you’re working for. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I mean, you were essentially managing up to the state legislature in some ways. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah, we absolutely were. We absolutely were in that case.

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. So now you just have, you know, like a CEO [laughs] and vice presidents and that sort of thing. All right. So let’s get into our questions. This first one is the perfect setup for this whole episode. Here’s Alicia. 

 

Alicia: I recently switched jobs after spending a significant amount of time in one organization. I’m at the midpoint of my career having managed teams and confident in both my strengths and areas I need support in. When needed I’m confident in asking for direction. This new workplace is matrixed and puts a high level of emphasis on managing up. It’s beginning to feel like a way to excuse accountability for more senior positions and puts the onus on younger staff to navigate challenging work structures. I love to hear discussion of the pros and cons of managing up and how to address it so it doesn’t become 90% of my time rather than getting the actual work done. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: All right. So some people believe that managing up is a way for people in power to just not do their jobs. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And that if you do it, you are essentially facilitating a broken system like you are sustaining it by continually highlighting all the work that you’re doing and continually make it so instead of having the manager actually do their job, which is to figure out what you’re doing. So what do you think about that? 

 

Alaina Fuld: I go back to what we talked about a little bit in the intro about it being reciprocal. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: So at Brooks, we invest really highly in management training. It’s four or five days of intense training, and we start the training with this statistic that at least 75% of morale is your manager, your direct manager. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm. 

 

Alaina Fuld: So how you feel in your job there is your colleagues, there’s your your compensation, there’s your benefits, there’s all of these things. There’s what’s for lunch that day, and the majority of it is your manager. Our people programs manager reminded me today you’re responsible for morale as a manager. So I think in the best circumstances, you really start there, which is what is the autonomy that the manager has to make this a good place to work. And then as an employee, then you have that responsibility to give your manager information to make sure that they can represent you, represent your team effectively. So in the best circumstances, it’s a two way street. And I think what this person who asked that question maybe is feeling is that other side isn’t being met. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Right. So they’re not getting that support. They’re not getting that investment from their manager and then they just feel like their relationship with their manager is . Burden to actually getting their work done. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Which is is broken. Right. That’s not a healthy relationship. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: How much of this do you think is a problem of giving a manager too many direct reports so that they don’t have the bandwidth to actually be a good manager? 

 

Alaina Fuld: I mean, it might be that it’s hard, you know, without knowing. I had never heard the phrase matrixed until I came to work for Brooks. We are also highly matrixed.

 

Anne Helen Petersen: What does that mean? Can you define it for other people? 

 

Alaina Fuld: [laughs] I would say that, you know, you have your direct line above you, but then you’re also laterally very dependent on each other. So if there’s four different teams, your manager really relies on their relationships with their level to achieve. You rely on your peers, your, you know, direct reports rely on theirs. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: So the lines are going crisscross all around, which means you you not only have to, you know, have that a really strong relationship and really good communication with your manager but sometimes other people’s managers or you need to make sure that your colleagues are going to their managers so that when the two meet together above you, they’re both equipped to have a conversation, especially if it’s a difficult one about priority or resources. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So what’s an example of like, let’s say there’s a crisis if you have a matrixed scenario, how does that work? Like, are you all called into the room and then you’re accountable to a bunch of people? Like, how does it work in actual workflow? 

 

Alaina Fuld: [laughs] Yeah, I mean, the way that I think it goes awry is, is there’s a crisis. You as an organization can appear or be slow to respond because if you have a lot of people who are stakeholders in that response and they have a there’s a lot of layers above them—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: —and below them. It can be challenging to do things in a timely manner. I think the pro of it is if you have a lot of interdependency and you set up your relationships to recognize that, then you can move things forward together and it avoids having to go backwards and redo work because you didn’t have the right people at the table. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: There’s not really a question in this question, but let’s come up with an answer—

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: —to the lack of question, which is that this person seems to really feel like she is spending more time managing up than doing her job. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So what would you do in that scenario? 

 

Alaina Fuld: The reality of being a good manager, it’s this is my unscientific opinion. 90% interpersonal skills. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: And 10% hard skills, technical skills. Because you can be a really good leader and a really good manager and not know the exact work that your director reports or your team—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Exactly. 

 

Alaina Fuld: —does. Not be an expert in their work. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: But the only way that that works is if you’re an evolved enough person, you can, you understand like your own behavior is how you show up. You build relationships that are trusting. And so it’s hard to know if if this person just their manager has too much going on or if their manager just doesn’t have those soft skills. And so what advice I would give is I would think more about how could you improve the soft relationship and how can you really be direct with your manager? Like, what do you need to effectively represent our team, our work? Can I bring this to you in a different way and and be honest and say, can I do it in a way that frees me up to do more X, Y, Z? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. I think anytime that you can phrase it to a manager in terms of like, I want to be doing more right, like I want to be more productive for the organization that is effective. But I think too like one thing, if there does seem to be like a lack of trust, like maybe this person’s management team doesn’t exactly know what they do. And so this person who’s getting managed feels like they have to explain it a lot. Here’s what I’m doing. Here’s why I’m doing a good job at it. How do you get through that break through? Like, maybe it’s just saying, like. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I’m really good at what I do. And unless you feel like I need to explain it to you really in detail, like maybe I can give you the top line on it or something like that. I don’t know. 

 

Alaina Fuld: It might be as simple as maybe this person’s manager doesn’t mind having tons of emails in their inbox, so you can just copy your manager on things. Some people really don’t want that. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: But it could be as simple as I can copy you so that you can see how I work or how I think. I think the other thing is what are you reporting? So my manager has a good phrase she’ll often use. Help them understand your thinking. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Hmm. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Because I think what we we tend to show the product or sometimes we show the process. But what you really bring to your job as a skilled professional worker is your thinking. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Your judgment, your you, I’ve done this before, and I know that this is probably going to work. And so how can you show people that and then spend less time showing product or showing results? It kind of depends on what’s important to people. But I do think when people see that you use sound judgment, they develop stronger trust. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: And then maybe they’ll back off. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yeah. And some of it is being with the manager long enough that they have that trust. Sometimes it never comes, and that just means that they’re a bad manager. Is there anything else in terms of direct advice that we can give her? 

 

Alaina Fuld: I think you could say here are the things that are really valuable to me from a manager. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: I really appreciate X, Y, and Z, and you don’t have to say I don’t appreciate these other things. [laughs] 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. 

 

Alaina Fuld: But, maybe they’ll get the hint. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: No, and this is like a larger management conversation, but like in 5% of situations it’s going to backfire on you for whatever weird, like interpersonal sensitivity reason. And 95% of the time it’s going to be. Thank you so much for telling me how to manage you, because that is really useful. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yes. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: For me, because I am not a very well trained manager. And I like I like having some pointers. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: On how to be better at managing you specifically. 

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Okay, So the rest of our questions assume that managing up is a thing that has to happen. [laughter] We’re going to help our listeners game out the various situations they’re in. So this next question is from Tanya and our PR manager Ashley is going to read it. 

 

Tanya: I’m on the leadership team of a small nonprofit. One of my peers, another department head, has referred to his wife multiple times as, quote, “the boss” as in the boss and I are downtown running some errands, etc.. I really hate this trope. It’s detrimental to women. I think it’s bad modeling for a leader and one of the few men in our organization. In general, this guy is not a bad guy. I’ve always felt he’s respectful to me and the other women in the office. He’s 40 ish and from the Midwest. I think he thinks it’s funny, but it’s not. I want to talk to him about it, but I’m nervous. I don’t want to come off as difficult or personally offended. I have a lot more tenure than him and feel like I’m always the one telling slash teaching everyone everything. Also, it’s emotional labor. Should I talk to him? How should I approach it? I’ve also considered talking to a man I’m closer to and trust more and asking him to address it. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: First things first. Let’s clarify. These two people are on the same level. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Right. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So it’s not like asking her boss not to say these things. So it’s it’s more of like a peer to peer situation. Do you know this guy?  

 

Alaina Fuld: Well. [laughter] I mean, does he have to be from the Midwest? [laughter] Is that supposed to be good or bad in this scenario? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I think it’s supposed to communicate a folksiness. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Sorry. People from the Midwest. [laughter] 

 

Anne Helen Petersen:  I’m from the Midwest, sort of. 

 

Alaina Fuld: I know. [laughter]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And I think what this person is trying to communicate is that maybe they are not totally up to date on every single Twitter rule about what is the height of political correctness in office scenarios. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Right. Right. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And emphasizing, though, that this person would probably be embarrassed if you point out to them like, that’s not okay. Might react a little bit like, oh, well, are we not allowed to say this now like offended boomer style, but this person is in their forties, so how would you handle this? 

 

Alaina Fuld: So here is what I would do. And this is the the PR professional in me, I guess. Is I’d go for subtle. First of all, I would take that the third option, which we would call triangulation at Brooks off the table. Don’t bring anyone else into this. This is your opinion that this is not a positive way to talk about women. I wouldn’t bring anyone else into it. So what I would do is I would find a way to talk to that peer where I could express maybe somewhat subtly, but only medium subtle because you don’t want him to miss it. Why you feel that is demeaning to women. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Hmm. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Not in the context of his wife. So we’re at lunch and somehow I managed to bring up, oh, it’s just hard because I think this idea of like the girl boss or I’m not bossy, I’m the boss, maybe started out with good intentions, but it’s been co-opted and it ends up, you know, I mean, I’m not going to fill in why you feel the way you feel that it’s negative. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: You, the listener. I mean, this is a person that he’s referring to that’s in his personal life. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: So it’s not someone at work. I mean, he’s allowed to call his wife what he calls her. And if she has a problem with that, she’s going to take it up with him. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Alaina Fuld: So I think it’s just how do you find an appropriate way to express how you feel and then, you know, trust that your colleague respects you enough to be like, oh, maybe I shouldn’t say this around that person. That said, if it’s really, really bothering you, you might choose to take a stronger stance. Again, I just think we have to be aware that this is someone’s personal life and it’s part of their marriage. We don’t get to tell people what they do in their partnerships or in their home. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I feel like it’s one of those things where it’s a larger posture towards being in a space where women are in control or where you’re reacting to the fact that, like you’re kind of in the minority. This person’s in a nonprofit space, which, as we know, dominated by women. And so it’s like a jokey way of being like the women run the show here. You know what I mean? 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And so probably this reaction, like the reason why it bothers her is because of other slight things that he might be doing in that workplace. Right. Like that. Just calling his wife the boss is a consolidation of that larger outlook. And so I think that that might be, you know, a way to just talk about that conversation right there, just to be like, it kind of makes me uncomfortable when you say that just because this like if you can keep it light and see. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Test out how he reacts, like just because I think that sometimes it’s demeaning towards women because like, it suggests that, like, I don’t know, the power that we have is a joke. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah. Or that when women have authority in that context, it implies a little bit of nagging or haranguing. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Right. Like, if the wife is the boss, it’s like I have to sacrifice my autonomy. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: To keep my wife happy. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: I mean, I get it. I just think there’s a line between and and she shouldn’t. She shouldn’t feel like she has to undermine the strength of her own opinion. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Right. She’s allowed to feel the way she feels. I just think there’s an awareness, too, that you’re then entering into someone’s choice about the way that they interact with their spouse. And there’s a line there. So it’s just walking. Kind of walking that line. You’re you’re entitled to to share your opinion if you’re uncomfortable. But you shouldn’t be telling someone like you can’t call your wife this. It’s like, please know that when you say this, it has this effect on me. And then that person is going to then be empowered to make a choice with that. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: What if he called her the bitch? 

 

Alaina Fuld: Well [laughs] I think then you would say the same thing, which is when you say that word in that context, this is how it makes me feel. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Alaina Fuld: You have the right to say this is the effect it has on me. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I really want to point to the part of the question where she’s like, I don’t want to come off as difficult. And I think this is something if we can get away from the specifics of this question, like if you’re a person of color and you’re noticing microaggressions, which technically aren’t about the workplace, right? It’s just like something someone is saying about the news, their personal observation that they’re just saying at lunch or whatever, like. And then if you remark on it, you become the person who’s difficult. I think sometimes people who are in these positions of less societal power. Sometimes just like keep their mouth shut because they don’t want to become the problem. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Or they’re just so tired of always being the problem. Right. Like, it’s just like. 

 

Alaina Fuld: It’s me. I’m like the problem. [laughter] 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, right. Like, and that’s exhausting. And I think she. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: The question writer points to this in terms of like, it’s emotional labor for me to have to point this out. So how do you conceive of that? Like how how does an organization create a scenario where it isn’t always the people with the least organizational power or societal power who are doing this work? 

 

Alaina Fuld: I don’t know, man. That’s a tough one. I think hopefully this comes from the top, but at whatever level it can come from and it should come from all levels. The way that we show up, even if we’re talking about our personal life or even if we’re commenting on the news, if you put that into the atmosphere at work, that’s part of the culture at work. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: And people have a right to ask to come to work in a place that makes them feel respected. That is a place of respect. That is not demeaning. You know how you have to give yourself a pep talk before you do the thing that you know might not be that well-received or you don’t want, you know, you’re like, ugh, I have to be the problem. Again, I think that pep talk is I have a right to say, you know, what is meaningful to me, what is respectful to me, to set our boundary to me within the culture of this workspace, to make sure that it’s a place that feels positive for everyone and that is accepting of everyone. And I think that’s really hard. I mean, it sounds easy, but workplaces have their own culture and what it can feel like is, oh, there’s this one homogeneous culture, and if I’m this way, then I’ll get promoted and I’ll get and be accepted and everyone will like me. And if I’m not that way, it’s going to hold me back. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: And that’s really dangerous, but it’s also human. So we’re sort of combating. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Like as leaders and culture setters, we’re kind of combating human nature, which is like gravitates towards like and again, that’s really on managers and leaders, like am I creating a workplace where people feel they can be their authentic selves? And if not, am I listening when people are telling me why they don’t feel that way? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: And if I’m asking if I’m serving my employees and they’re giving me feedback like, am I acting on that feedback? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. Our question asker, I think she’s personally annoyed by it, but she’s also mindful of the larger organization. And I think when you do have some power in your organization by figuring out when you can be the problem and maybe it’s the situation, maybe it’s a different situation, like when you can use your organizational capital to be the problem so that other people who don’t have as much don’t have to be the problem that’s useful. 

 

Alaina Fuld: People are always watching, right? And I’m kind of I think sometimes I’m the problem. [laughter] Like I’m often speaking up and I’ll weigh in first. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Alaina Fuld: And I worry about whether or not that’s the right thing to do and I worry about how it’s being received. And it’s not always the right choice, but sometimes I am reminded that it’s the right choice when someone will then come to me and be like, thank you so much for speaking up. I didn’t feel like I could, and it really meant a lot to me that you did. And so then you’re reminded like, oh, that wasn’t that felt like a risk for me because I kind of put myself out there. But then I’m glad I did because it was meaningful to someone else, too. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Melody just came in my ear to say that we are both of us [laughter] are underestimating the power of a well-timed grimace. Like just being like, ugh, the next time he says it over lunch or whatever, which I have to agree. Like, I think that that could go a long way. This person doesn’t want to be a doof, like he doesn’t want to be a doof. [laughs] So if you could just give him a well timed grimace, it will work out. Also, Melody’s from the Midwest, so she would know. [laughter] All right. Our next question is about what to do when your boss is directly interfering with your work. This question comes from Lynne, and our producer Melody is going to read it. 

 

Lynne: A year ago, I was hired to be a core member of an interdisciplinary scientific team in a newly established research organization with a mandate to solve big, complex problems. I took the job knowing I was on uneven footing. I’m a social scientist on a team of mostly engineers and managed by engineers. Yet leadership convinced me they truly wanted to incorporate my expertise into our stated mission of building novel solutions solutions not achievable through engineering alone. I love my lateral colleagues. We engage one another with humility and respect for our different skill sets. However, my interactions with my immediate manager have soured into devaluation, disrespect and dismissal of my discipline, research methods and the way I engage with problems. My colleagues are openly grateful for my expertise and expressed that it has improved the depth and strength of their work. The leader of our organization makes a show of being supportive of me and respecting my perspective, but is mostly completely absent from the day to day of our work and avoids making any changes or difficult decisions that would meaningfully incorporate contributions from beyond engineering. The only thing keeping me here is the respect of. My colleagues and my ability to do some good work despite being stifled by my manager. I am now so demoralized that I wonder why I was even brought on to this team. I have tried educating my manager by wasting a lot of time and energy, explaining basic things about social science and exactly how it is relevant to solving big, complex problems. But ultimately my manager just wants me to behave, communicate and produce like an engineer. I would like to have a conversation with the leader of the organization to revisit how interdisciplinarity is valued at our organization and whether and how either of them can effectively manage me like a social scientist. But ultimately, the disciplinary hubris of engineering is overpowering our organization, if largely invisible to its leadership. I’m near the point of feeling like I have nothing to lose and would like to have a managing up conversation demanding respect. How do I do this? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Oofta, oofta. All right, so [laughter] there’s a lot of things happening here. The first is. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I totally recognize the, like, disciplinary wars [laughter] in terms of like how—

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: —different disciplines think of research methods on, like, who is superior. But I think you have also dealt with this in a slightly different way in terms of like how there can be real conflict between people who are maybe deep in academia and thinking about like academic goals and methods, butting heads with people who are, say, running a museum where their research is featured, where you have different goals and ends. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: In terms of how you work together and that sort of thing. So my first inclination is that like this is a dead end and these engineers aren’t going to change. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: But I would love to hear what you think about this one. 

 

Alaina Fuld: I feel for the listener. I think my experience being someone who worked in academia but did not have an advanced degree, I definitely felt disrespected all the time. And I think that’s really rude. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. [laughter]

 

Alaina Fuld: And I just remember this curator explaining something about anatomy of dinosaurs to me. And I asked a question that was clarifying between two different bones. And he just like, rolled his eyes and I stopped him and I said, excuse me, I know it’s difficult for you to unknow what you know, but not everyone knows this. And it doesn’t mean they’re less of a person. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: And it’s an environment that can breed that kind of behavior too right so that it’s essentially acceptable. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: To talk about how much you’re smarter or better or more successful than other people. And that’s just not acceptable. So I feel for this person. I agree with you. I think probably, unfortunately, it’s just not a battle they’re going to win and it’s not worth their heart and time and energy. I think if they really want to give it one last go. One idea I had was if you could ask for a 360 review. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm. 

 

Alaina Fuld: So if you really have these great relationships with your peers, could you essentially ask your manager or even your skip level or both? Do you have a 360 review process? Can you gather feedback from my peers? Because I think that that can be really powerful because you’re not there defending your own contributions. Other people are doing it for you. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: So I think that would be one option. And then if this person wants to have a conversation with their manager and the leader of the organization about their contribution, that’s totally fair. Right? So some sort of formal conversation where you say, these are the things I’d like to bring to the table, I’d like to have a discussion about X, Y, and Z. You can’t demand respect, unfortunately. You can only earn it. It’s not fair, but it’s true. So if you’re not being respected. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: And you’re, you know, you’re making valuable contributions, that’s on them. And unfortunately, like, if you can’t navigate out of that, it’s probably you probably shouldn’t be giving them your time and energy. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I think that the fundamental problem here is that this engineer does not think the social sciences are valued or valuable. 

 

Alaina Fuld: They probably don’t even see their own bias. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. 

 

Alaina Fuld: So if you ask them, are social sciences valuable? They would say, yes. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Maybe, maybe. [laughter] 

 

Alaina Fuld: But they don’t recognize, maybe. Or they would say yes, even if they didn’t think it. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Because they knew they should. But if they’re acting in a way that’s demonstrating bias every day, then it doesn’t really matter what they say. It’s how they act. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, I think that it’s a research organization, so it is not technically in the halls of academia. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: But academia and its spiraling outcroppings do not have a particularly good track record of understanding what management even looks like. Right. Because there’s this resistance to, like, research and academic knowledge being conceived of in any way, for better or for worse, as a business. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Right. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And I understand that. But at the same time, if you are a department head, you are a manager, if you are a graduate advisor, you are a manager. And. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: The more that people can think about those roles in that capacity, the better they’re going to be at their jobs. But there is a resistance because of all of the other negative things that come with thinking of academia as a business. But again, I don’t think this person has any training. It doesn’t sound like the research organization has any investment in trying to like, train these people to be better managers. 

 

Alaina Fuld: And also that they didn’t think through what kind of environment they would create by bringing someone who doesn’t have the same CV as all of their peers into the team. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Alaina Fuld: You got to you have to accommodate for that. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Alaina Fuld: And they didn’t think about how to create how to set that person up for success. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, I will say that this person sounds very skilled and deserves respect and will probably be able to find another job elsewhere if they’re willing to start looking. So as much as we always are trying to be very mindful about why it is hard for people to find new jobs. This does seem like something that’s not going to change. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah, I had a person who was who I really respected at a certain point in my career. She had come into the organization where I was working as a new managing partner, and she sat me down and she was like, I think you’re great. I would really like to keep working with you, but for whatever reason, there seems to be a block here and I don’t think you’re going to get over it. And I don’t even think I can help you get over it. And it was a gift. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: It was like, Look, there’s a brick wall, so quit banging your head against it. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: And I mean, it sucks, but I was just grateful that someone said, like, I’ve tried to look over this wall for you, and I can’t see the other side, so let me help you be successful somewhere else. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: That can be a gift. It sucks but. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: It doesn’t mean it’s a failure. It means that if anything. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Exactly. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: You’ve reached the point in your career where you can identify when things are a brick wall instead of, like you said, like spending years banging your head up against it. [music plays] All right. Our last question is about asking your manager to step in for your benefit, but also for the good of the culture. And this is from Sam, and our colleague Ari is going to read it. 

 

Sam: I’m 24 and do communications work in higher education. I’m the youngest person on my team and the only openly queer person. There’s a huge gap in DEI efforts at my workplace around LGBTQ2S+ issues. This shows up in thoughtless misgendering, but also just a lack of knowledge and awareness about everything facing queer folks right now, including anti queer graffiti on campus. How can I ask my manager to fill this gap? I want to see training or other resources for my colleagues, but I’m exhausted. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So first of all, I have to plug the episode that we did with Morgan Givens, which is called Your Identity Is Not A Problem, which just underlines that Sam deserves to have a welcoming and safe workplace and they are not the problem by asking to feel safer in their workplace as a whole and asking for their colleagues to be more mindful and thoughtful about how to advocate for that. So, Alaina, what kind of conversation would you advise Sam to have with their manager? 

 

Alaina Fuld: I mean, I think you started down that path, which is just to remind yourself that you have a right to do this. But I also think there’s the part about it’s exhausting right. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: It’s not Sam’s job. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: To create an inclusive culture at this organization. Everyone is part of culture, but it’s not Sam’s job. It sounds like Sam in this particular instance too, is starting out and younger in their career. That said, I think what happens is, again, people just they don’t know what they don’t know. And if you’re in an organization that is like really homogenous or basically has a dominant cis culture or a dominant white culture, and they just don’t, they think it’s the culture. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Then there is value in speaking up and using your voice, but then you have to draw the line for yourself of like, okay, I’ve said my piece, I’ve asked very clearly, as I’ve said, you know, here are some specific things that would make a difference to myself and probably people who are similar to me, and I would put that in writing. [laughs]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: And I would make sure that, you know, if you have H.R., it’s with H.R. as well as your manager. So it doesn’t just stop with your manager, and then you should see your organization take action. And if they don’t, then maybe it’s not a place that’s going to be that deserves again, deserves your time. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: And I realize it’s not easy to just change jobs all the time, but I think it’s just about knowing, like I’ve given my 100%. I mean, this the whole managing up conversation, right? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Alaina Fuld: The whole theme of this is like, there’s only so far you alone can go and your your leadership has to meet you halfway. And it’s really hard because there’s a power differential. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 

 

Alaina Fuld: So you can ask for to be treated a certain way, but you can’t guarantee that it’s going to be received. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, I think you got to put yourself out there enough that you’re saying this is what’s meaningful to me, this is what I’m seeing, and then really hope that people respond. It’s so hard when there’s these issues come up too where you feel like whether or not you’re a member of a community, but you just see this onslaught of like hatred and prejudice against a community. And it feels like other people don’t see that. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Because they’re not part of it or because of their own privilege. That’s it’s just really damaging. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: It’s really like demoralizing. Like, how can you not see this? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. Yeah, I totally understand. Like if you are part of a community that is going to be especially if Sam is in a state where some of these trans and anti LGBT laws are going through the legislature right now, like even if they’re not, but it feels like it could come to your state at any moment, like it is just a feeling of lack of safety and anger that other people like. They’re not thinking about it all the time. You can see how that would feel. Really lonely. It sounds like Sam is really lonely. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: In their workplace. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah, isolated. I think I would encourage Sam too to think of, if they haven’t already, just some concrete things that would make them feel more seen. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: And because I think the other thing too, is sometimes like people do want to help and they want to be part of the solution, but they don’t know where to start. And having been like working in communications and community impact, I actually spend more of my time thinking about like what’s external, how are we showing up as a brand, how are we showing up to our consumers, how are we showing up to our community. And it’s not easy to change things internally, but it can actually be more straightforward. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm. 

 

Alaina Fuld: And even less costly sometimes to the business. Like, for instance, it costs nothing to create an education campaign internally about putting pronouns in your email signature. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Starting at home makes a lot of sense. And then if you’re an organization or an employer that does care about these issues in your whatever your consumer base or your community, or if you’re a nonprofit, your cause, you doing things internally will help you build a track record and a confidence that you put your like you stand for what you say you stand for. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Alaina Fuld: And then it kind of allow you, if it’s appropriate, to also start to externalize those values because it has to be true on the inside. And if you’re going to go out to the outside. So there’s a benefit, I think, to the business, to the employers, I hope hopefully they can hear that from someone like Sam. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So Sam works in a communications department of a larger university, it seems like, and probably depending on the organization, but there might be something like something that went out about, here’s how you can add pronouns to your email signature. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Right. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Like university wise. But like something Sam could say is this would be really important to me if we all do this in our department, because it might not be something that has been universally adopted within the department, but that it matters. And I would say too, because we’re trying to think about managing up. A list of like two or three things that Sam could bring to their manager who could then bring it to the department. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Because Sam does not have the institutional power or maybe doesn’t feel empowered to like, send an email to the entire department. But like, say, this is where your manager could do a really good job and where I think probably unless this manager is an asshole like the manager would be like, this is great, let’s do more of this. We want to be inclusive in this way. All right. So the last thing, though, that I think we should talk a little bit about is that maybe Sam doesn’t feel like there’s any direct support in their department, but if it’s a larger university or if it’s even a university town, they can find some people who are essentially their peers who are also involved in DEI efforts, or specifically more specifically LGBT efforts that are at that level and get ideas there. Do you think that would work? 

 

Alaina Fuld: Yeah, I do. And I think overall a good hack for managing up is copy and paste peers [laughter] or sometimes even competitors. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yeah yeah.

 

Alaina Fuld: So to your manager, to your leadership, sometimes it feels like you’re like, I know this is a good idea, but I don’t think people are going to listen to it coming from me, which has its own problems. Right? But sometimes if you just accept that reality and then you can be and you can say, look what so-and-so is doing, and if that’s a trusted source, whether that’s, you know, media or a similar department or even, again, competitors can be really motivating. That can be a hack to managing up where we have to do it. It’s part of life, but like, let’s make it easier and not make it take 90% of our job. I think that’s a really good tool in your toolbox. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And I just also want to tell Sam that like change at a university is hard. These are organizations—

 

Alaina Fuld: For sure. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: —that are often ostensibly more progressive than corporations, but also it’s just like very difficult to get people to pay attention because in part, most of the time people are really overworked and there’s just like there’s a lot going on and the rest of your work life doesn’t have to be like this, but it’s okay to feel tired and to feel lonely and people should be paying more attention. So you’re not the problem. 

 

Alaina Fuld: They have a responsibility to help take care of you. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So before we go, any guidance for managers? If someone comes to them with a managing up conversation, what does the manager do? Like, how do you not be defensive?

 

Alaina Fuld: Oh. Admire their skill man. [laughter] Like I have some people on my team who are just so good at this and it’s not. It doesn’t feel forced. It’s like, hey, here’s what I’m working on, here’s my priorities. Here’s an area that I anticipate I might need support. Do I, do you have my back? Do we need to get anyone else lined up behind us? I think that is a skill. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Alaina Fuld: And I love to have smart, skilled, competent people on my team. If you’re manipulating me effectively,  good for you. [laughter] Great job. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: That is where we will leave it. [laughter] So if people want to find you on the internet, you have a private Instagram your kids are really cute, but they could they can come to my Instagram and I’ll take pictures of them sometimes. 

 

Alaina Fuld: There you go. And sometimes your dogs are on my Instagram. [laughter] And then people get really excited because you’re famous, which I find wonderful. People can find me on LinkedIn. Alaina Fuld. That’s a good place. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Amazing. Thank you so much. 

 

Alaina Fuld: Thank you. [music plays]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Thanks for listening to Work Appropriate. If you need advice about a sticky situation at work, we are here for you. Submit your questions at WorkAppropriate.com or send a voice memo with your question to Work Appropriate at Crooked.com. Don’t forget to follow us @CrookedMedia on Instagram and Twitter for more original content hosts takeovers and other community events. You can follow me on Twitter @AnneHelen or on Instagram @AnneHelenPetersen. You can sign up for my newsletter Culture Study AnneHelen.substack.com. And if you really like the show, leave us a little performance review on your podcast app of choice. It really helps. Work Appropriate is a Crooked Media production. I’m Anne Helen Petersen, your host. Our executive producer is Kendra James. Melody Rowell is our producer and editor. Alison Falzetta is our development producer. Music is composed by Chanell Crichlow. Additional production support from Ari Schwartz and a special thanks to Katie Long and Sarah Geismer. Next week, we’re talking about everything that can go wrong when working for a nonprofit. Don’t miss it.