Maintaining Contact: The Pros and Cons of Each Managerial Communication Preference

“Effective teamwork begins and ends with communication.” – Mike Krzyzewski, American college basketball player and coach.

Whenever you start working with a new manager, make one your first goals to determine the ground rules of your relationship, especially how you interact. Some rules are baked-in, based on your relative positions in the organizational hierarchy, but a surprising number aren’t. Ideally, your new leader will let you know the basics, but if they don’t, it’s up to you to step up and ask.

One of your most significant “rules of engagement” is determining your manager’s favored communication method. This is a key aspect of effectively “managing up.” Ideally, the lines of communication should always remain open and clear, with communications coming to you from your manager and vice versa on a regular basis. However, the hustle and flow of office work may actually dictate how well you interact, and the difficulty of acquiring the access you need. Other factors will also determine how your manager prefers you to communicate with them, including personality and managerial style.

Ultimately, it comes down to the three types of communication: face-to-face meetings, reports by phone, and reports by email. Some managers like to mix the types of reporting based on type and urgency, but most will stick to one type under normal circumstances. All three types may occur on a continuum ranging from rarely (in the case of a disengaged manager) to very often (if you’re saddled with a micromanager). Let’s look at reporting/communication preferences.

      1. Face-to-face meetings. Typically, these are preferred by managers with open-door policies and more extroverted individuals — in general, those more comfortable with people, and who feel you’ll better receive their messages face-to-face. Your meeting frequency may occur as a regular appointment in the manager’s office or a conference room, and may take place more often when something changes with your project(s) or if your superior micromanages. If the latter is the case, they may come find you or hover over your shoulder and demand updates (though micromanagers can use any of communication method to hound you). If you sense your manager prefers more frequent reports, don’t hesitate to manage up by knocking on their door anytime to give them a quick rundown on your progress.
      1. Phone calls. For less-extroverted managers, more hands-off managers, or those who are busy, a quick phone call may be the best way to touch bases — as long as your boss isn’t harried and has a good memory. (This includes Skype calls, if the boss needs to see your face). At some point. they may still want a written report or at least an email, to nail down your progress with documentation. Depending on the kind of work, an occasional progress report or, better yet, the finished product may be all they want. If that’s so, make sure you measure twice before you cut, staying in contact sufficiently that the final product matches the final specifications, especially if they’ve changed on the fly. 
      1. Emails. Some of the best managers just point you in the right direction and let you run with the ball. In this case, as long as you do your due diligence, check in regularly, and keep your eyes out for any changes as the project proceeds, occasional email updates should be sufficient. Email updates also work for more distant managers — including the absentee types, or those who travel regularly — because they require the least amount of emotional investment for the manager. Plus, reading emails don’t take much longer than receiving calls, and may be the best way to communicate in today’s far-flung business cultures, where some people may work many time-zones apart. I know workers and executives who regularly communicate across the International Dateline; one fellow in the central U.S., for example, regularly Skypes on his Friday evenings with a client in Australia, where it’s Saturday morning for him. Email allows you to avoid such scheduling acrobatics. It also puts your progress down in black and white, an important consideration if your manager or company process requires it.

 Hello, It’s Me

Distance between you and your manager doesn’t necessarily determine the form of communication in which they prefer your reports. They may favor emails or calls even when they’re sitting 30 feet away, or monthly meetings even though they’re in the next city over. They many also mix and match communications according to the situation. Nothing’s inherently wrong with any of these methods. Just learn early on what your manager prefers, as it’s up to you to manage up and make their life just a little easier.


© 2020 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

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