It sounds like a trick question: Answer it the wrong way, and you could find yourself at odds with a new boss or without a job offer. But, “How do you like to be managed?” is less about nailing the perfect, diplomatic response, and more about establishing a working relationship that benefits both you and your manager. Whether it comes up during an interview, when you’re onboarding at a new company, or when a new boss joins your team, communicating how you like to be managed is one of the best ways you can manage up. Here are a few tips and examples to help frame your thinking around the topic.
Avoid your management dislikes
“I hate being micromanaged.”
More than any other term, micromanagement has come to symbolize the worst of the workplace — and with good reason: No one can successfully manage a team while micromanaging individual team-members. (On the flip side, if you’re an employee who requires micromanaging, you’re unlikely to add value to your team.)
Most people will agree that they dislike micromanagement, but the question isn’t about your management style turnoffs; it’s specifically asking how your manager can help you be more successful.
Kimberly Pope, a marketing executive in New Orleans, has honed a response that gently signals “No micromanagers, please!” while articulating her needs: “I prefer a manager that talks through a project with me, clearly defines the best outcome, and then gives me the space and time to accomplish the tasks.“
Provide specific examples of strategies that you think made you a better employee in the past. For instance, you can say something like this: “At a previous job, my manager gathered the creative and marketing teams for a weekly debrief; it gave us insight into which campaigns were successful, and helped us adjust accordingly.”
What your manager needs to know
One of the best pieces of information you can share is the time of day you feel most productive. Are you a morning person? A night owl? Those kinds of details can help your manager optimize your schedule.
Great managers also want to know where they can support you.
Most workers dread the infamous, “What is your greatest weakness?” question in interviews, and we’ve been conditioned to turn that response into something we think will impress the interview panel. But once you’ve been hired addressing your weaknesses gives your manager more data points they can use to help you succeed.
Michael C., a senior manager at a multinational tech company, has experienced this from both sides of the leadership chain: managing large teams at startups and being managed on teams at large corporations. He says it’s useful when people on his team explain their weaknesses because their strengths are usually obvious.
“A lot of what a manager is doing is providing openings for strength, but covering for weaknesses,” he explained. “The more weakness information people are transparent about with me, the more useful I can be to them in terms of protecting them or looking after them,” he said.
Here are the kinds of details Michael finds helpful.
“I need you to tell me what you're struggling with and what you're having problems with. That's what I need to pay attention to the most, because I am building a team to support your strengths and to shore up your weaknesses. If someone says, ‘I have a tendency to get rattled on stuff,’ or ‘I'm very distractible,’ or ‘I just tend to overwork,’ those are all actionable. I feel like I can actually guard against them.”
Some managers are better at applying the information they gather about their team members than others. If you’ve already told your manager that you thrive with autonomy or you need cross-functional visibility on projects and they fail to deliver, try a different approach.
When you need less interference from your manager, consider suggesting a policy like a meeting-free day during the week or email-free time blocks. Tone is important when making these requests, so the suggestion needs to be non-confrontational. Instead of saying, “I hate wasting my time at meetings,” try a positive spin like, “I was reading about a study that found teams are more efficient when given three meeting-free days each week. Is that something we could test?”
Keep in mind that there are limits to how much change an individual employee can expect. Just as an employee has their own work style, each manager has a unique management style.
A style that works for you
When you’re new to a job, you have to advocate for yourself. No one on your team is better equipped to speak up for your needs than you. A thoughtful answer to the question, “How do you like to be managed,” can set the tone for how you interact with your team and your manager.
For more tips on how to build a great relationship with your manager, check out our Glassdoor manager feedback guide.