When you’re communicating with a lot of very busy people at different levels of seniority, you need to manage upwards. Broadly speaking, this is “the process of managing your boss so that you, and people who work for you, can get work done with minimal interference.” Another way to put it? Teaching your boss how to manage you.
One of the most effective ways to manage upwards is to prioritise the “3Cs” – be Clear, Concise, and Courteous in your communications.
Here are a few things I’ve learned since working for a very busy and very demanding partner in our corporate team:
- before you send an email or pick up the phone, ask yourself, “is there anyone else at a lower seniority level who can answer this question?” Secretaries (Legal Assistants, Team Aides, etc) are a GREAT resource. Utilise them! They often know more about legal forms and procedure than the average junior associate. By turning to your colleagues first, instead of going straight back to your boss/supervisor for help, you’re sending the message that you can 1) delegate and 2) utilise resources properly.
- If you still have no idea of what’s going on or what’s been asked of you, make an educated guess. There’s a MAGIC PHRASE I often slap on at the end of an email: Please let me know if my understanding is correct. That’s a lot better than sending a “wait, now what do I do next?!” email. Sometimes, those you’re working with (and for) simply don’t realise that they’ve not explained something well enough.
- I recently had one partner tell me that a particular task was “dead easy” and would only take me a little while to do. It ended up taking me an entire afternoon and I had to get my mentor to double check. Don’t be afraid to ask for more help. You’re called a trainee for a reason. You’re not meant to know everything from day 1!
- When sending across a draft for someone to check, or even when asking a simple question, I almost always end my emails with something like “Thank you kindly in advance for your guidance,” or “any suggestions you may have for improvement are gratefully received.” While this may err on the side of formal, I suppose that’s just my style. I want there to be absolutely no doubts in anyone’s mind that I value feedback and want to improve.