Managing Up When You're Down: The Power of POISE

When the going gets tough, managing up gets tougher.  Scared stifles truth.  Needs stay unsaid.  Unfounded worries mushroom in the dark.  Unquestioned assumptions breed false conclusions.

Your boss can’t know what you’re thinking.  Don’t assume–anything.  Unsaid needs can never be met.  “My boss won’t understand,” is likely wrong.

Never Easy

I learned the hard way.

I couldn’t sleep.  As an HR Director, I had coached plenty of others on how to  “manage up.”  Now my turn– I locked my courage in the desk drawer.

Until finally,

I ate my own managing up advice for breakfast.  I spoke my truth.  Not eloquently.  In fact, awkwardly.  I was mad.   But he understood.  I heard his story. Then, I understood. We built an excellent plan around shared values.  Now he is my friend  (and a career-long sponsor).

I’ve never regretted telling my boss the truth.

Managing Up with P.O.I.S.E.

A few lessons learned from both sides of such conversations


  • Wait until emotion bottles up
  • Dump everything at once
  • Talk in generalities
  • Bring other people into it
  • Exaggerate
  • Contradict yourself

Instead handle the conversation with P.O.I.S.E.

Prepare:  Make an appointment.  Plan your key points. Write down your intention.  Start small to test waters and build trust.

Open Gently:  Ask sincere questions.  Get in your boss’ head.  Listen with an open heart.

Initiate:  Ask for what you need.  Start small, but don’t water down.  Be specific.

Summarize:  Share what you’ve heard. Be sure you’ve got it right.

Establish Next steps.  Great conversation is iterative.  Don’t try to solve everything in one round.

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Posted in Authenticity & Transparency and tagged , , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.


  1. Great bosses, great leaders, want constituents to bring solutions to the table.

    Having said that, the world has very few great leaders.

    Be authentic, step forward, and speak your mind. More than likely, you’ll be stepping into the leadership role soon.

  2. The best managers I have had always said, “Don’t come to me with problems, but come and talk when you have attempted to develop solutions.” I think this is sound advice. I also like the acronymn, POISE as this is excellent advice for entering most sensitive discussions. FInally, a colleague, a former USMC Colonel told me, “The only thing worse than a screw up is a cover up.” Also excellent advice.

  3. These are excellent suggestions under the poise acronym. One of the thoughts that came to mind as I read them is that it is often more difficult for women to follow these. Anyone out there agree?

    • Anne, that’s an interesting question. I am curious as to what the other readers think. My view… maybe for some women…but there’s always a curous cocktail of factors. It also depends on who the boss is. For some reason I seem to have an easier time talking to men in positions of power than women (as a general pattern… although I have had great mentors of both genders). Anyone else have any thoughts on the topic?

  4. Pingback: Managing Up When You’re Down: The Power of POISE | People Discovery

  5. Pingback: How to Give Your Boss Bad News

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