Switching Managers

Eugene Polonsky
Jan 27 · 5 min read
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Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash

At a recent 1:1, a report who’s moving to a different manager asked me what the experience of switching managers is like, and what he should come to the first 1:1 with his new manager with.

The answer is the same for any new relationship, and consists of three parts, established in that order.

  1. Rapport
  2. Expectations
  3. Filters

In this post I’d like to go through each of these three and explain a bit how they apply to a first-1:1 situation.

1. Rapport

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Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

The most important thing to establish with your new manager is rapport. This would seem like a truism, except I seldom see real attempts to connect at a human level in new 1:1s. The dynamic is too charged with uncertainty / fear, and there’s really no reason for it to be.

It’s just two people connecting. No more, no less.

So, treat your new manager as you would a new friend. That means ask questions that get her to talk about herself. Primarily in a work setting, but quick forays into personal are worthwhile too. (“Hey, I see a guitar in the background. Do you play?” That sort of thing.)

People like to talk about themselves. Give your new manager a chance to, and she’ll be your friend from the start.

(My good friend Kurt points out the need to be genuine here. If you couldn’t care less about your manager’s guitar playing, don’t ask about it. Or learn how to fake interest. But if you can find points of connection that genuinely interest you both, that creates a dialogue that generates instant rapport. Look for those right from the start.)

Likewise, talk about yourself. As a manager meeting a new report, I’m nervous too. I don’t want to accidentally upset my new employee by saying something that triggers them. I want to come off as capable and having their best interests at heart.

Make it easy for me. Tell me what makes you tick. Tell me what your career aspirations are, what you enjoy about your job and what you don’t.

All of this, of course, assumes that your new manager doesn’t come to the 1:1 with a preset agenda. If they do, just play along, but try to insert rapport-building in-between the lines.

2. Expectations

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Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash

We’ve already partially covered this in the Rapport section, but it helps to be super-explicit about expectations, on both sides.

What sort of support do you expect from your manager? I typically ask this on my first 1:1s, and quite often people don’t really have a good answer because they haven’t thought of it upfront.

I’ll bet you have plenty of expectations. For example:

  • I really don’t feel comfortable being called out in public
  • I like to feel that my manager has my back in an argument, or is able to deescalate the argument without making me feel foolish.
  • I like to give my manager constructive feedback when I feel it necessary without fearing retribution.

You get the idea. The thing is if you go into a 1:1 without having thought through these first, they’re not magically going to materialize. More than likely, they’ll go unsaid and become landmines in your future relationship.

In the same manner, your manager has explicit and implicit expectations of you, and you cannot expect her to articulate them. She may be an experienced enough manager to know to make implicit expectations explicit, and surface all of them from the get-go. Or she may not. So manage up and initiate that discussion yourself.

3. Filters

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Photo by Simone Hutsch on Unsplash

This is probably the most interesting and non-intuitive of the three. The thing is, human brains are wired to perceive everything through the filter of previous experience.

If you observe Bob, your coworker, consistently pounding away at the keyboard when you arrive at the office (remember those days?) at 7am, or actively responding on Teams/Slack at 7am, and equally actively responding at 7pm, you’re going to think about Bob as a hard worker. That impression won’t change even if Bob starts working 11am-3pm… for a few days. Or weeks. More likely you’ll start making excuses for Bob as to why he’s not responding when he usually does.

What you’ve done is created a filter to see Bob through.

People hate having to change their filters. Even if Bob starts skipping out on work, there’ll be a period of time during which you’ll jump through cognitive hoops to make up reasons for his absence. Only after consistent absences will you start wondering if maybe Bob isn’t as hard a worker as you thought… and a new filter (Bob is a lazy bum) will be set.

(Kurt aside: generally the filter progression is from ineffectual to capable, not the way I’ve set it up above. The exact same method applies though.)

When you meet someone new, you have a unique opportunity to dictate what filter they see you through. Want to be seen as funny? Crack a few jokes. Want to be seen as likeable? Capable? Business-value-minded? Practical?

You get the idea.

Your new manager’s filters haven’t been set yet. Don’t let them be set unintentionally. Figure out how you want to be perceived on your team, and what set of behaviors would exemplify that perception, and then make sure you’re observed engaging in those behaviors.

After awhile (this isn’t a one-meeting exercise), once the filters have been established, you can relax. Assuming that you’re not trying to set up filters directly contradicting your personality/capacity, it’s unlikely that you’ll indulge in behaviors directly contrary to the filters that you have now set. Without direct contradiction, these filters will persist.

(Thanks to Kurt Heston, as usual, for reviewing a draft of this story.)

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Eugene Polonsky

Written by

Eugene Polonsky is a 24-year veteran in the IT field. When not writing about management, he runs a team at Adobe and works on his Nordic fantasy novel.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +775K people. Follow to join our community.

Eugene Polonsky

Written by

Eugene Polonsky is a 24-year veteran in the IT field. When not writing about management, he runs a team at Adobe and works on his Nordic fantasy novel.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +775K people. Follow to join our community.

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