6 tips to be a better manager in the most common situations you’ll face

Whether you’re a new manager or hate delivering negative feedback, I share our most popular tips for the situations that managers most frequently encounter.


“If there’s one thing you should be doing to become a better manager, what is it?” I got asked this question recently.

My answer: It depends on on the situation 🙂

It may seem like a cop out answer, but it’s true. What you should do to be a better manager has everything to do with your personal tendencies and habits, your team’s dynamics, and what’s going on with your team in a given moment. It’s about the particular situation. Broadly recommending that you should “make decisions more quickly” or “focus on engaging your team” is unhelpful unless those recommendations are calibrated to your situation.

So I’ve compiled together below six of the most common situations managers often find themselves in, and our most popular recommendations for each:

If you’re a new manager Slow down. Build trust, first.

When you’re a new manager, it’s tempting to want to prove your worth. You want your team to know they’re in good hands. However, the best way to establish your legitimacy as a new manager is to build trust, first. Don’t dive headfirst into charting a vision or make any sweeping changes you think are needed. One of the best ways to build trust during your first team meeting is to share who you are — but more than just the surface level stuff. Your direct reports want to know: What causes do you believe in? What do you see as your greatest weaknesses? What’s your leadership philosophy? Getting to know the real you, especially during your first meeting as a manager, helps build trust. Here are some other suggestions I have for running your first meeting as a new manager and for building trust.

If you hate delivering negative feedback Say, “I’m giving you this feedback because I want you to succeed.”

You cringe at the thought of having to tell a direct report something they might not want to hear. However, if you focus on why you’re giving the person this feedback — that you care about them, the company, etc — it shows that you’re trying to help, not hurt, them. Here are 19 phrases that can help you share critical feedback even if you have a strong aversion to the process.

If you’re not sure how to recognize employees Share a customer review.

Employee recognition is all the rage these days — but we can often forget how to sincerely give employees that recognition. When delivering praise, it can be tempting to offer a gift card or some other incentive. But there are few things as genuine and gratifying for an employee than sharing a positive customer review. That’s not the only way though: Here are 8 ideas for how you show appreciation toward your team in a meaningful way.

If you notice your team hanging on to your every word Say, “This is not urgent.”

As the boss, your words can be taken seriously — sometimes, too seriously. The best way to mitigate this is to explicitly tell people that your word is not the word of god. One way to do this is to say, “This is not urgent,” so folks don’t prioritize things they shouldn’t. You can learn about why this happens and another phrase to use to diffuse your word as a leader here.

If you tend to get defensive when receiving feedback Assume positive intent.

Your reaction to feedback sets the tone in a team for how receptive you are to feedback. So if you react defensively, you discourage your team from ever bringing up feedback to you again. To ease your own defensive tendencies, take a moment to assume that the other person has positive intentions. They’re not out to get you — they just want something in the company to change. Here are four other ways to not get defensive while receiving feedback as a manager.

If you’re struggling to get honest feedback Ask for advice, instead of feedback.

Asking someone for their guidance shows that you trust their expertise or knowledge. The word “feedback” is loaded with emotional baggage — it’s negative, formal, and forced. So while employees are hesitant to give feedback, who doesn’t love to give advice? Switching out that one word can open up lines of communication you might not have otherwise had.


Any of these situations feel familiar? If so, I hope taking the one small step I recommended puts you in better footing as a manager. Remember, you don’t need to start changing a bunch of things, all at once. Your progress as a manager can begin by making one change specific to your situation.






P.S.: Please feel free to share + give this piece 👏 so others can find it too. Thanks 😄 (And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)

Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Know Your Team. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work.

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