my manager is excluding me from important conversations

A reader writes:

I need to have a conversation with my manager about why I continue to get excluded from strategic conversations when my teammates are included.

My colleague, who is just a bit senior than me, has mentioned on more than one occasion conversations she has had with our manager about overall strategic goals for the team or for the organization. Every time, I am left wondering: Wait… when did this conversation happen? Why wasn’t I invited?

I am starting to worry that there is something larger at play here. Last year, I was brand-new to the team, so in some sense I did not expect to get staffed on projects/conversations about the long-term vision for our work. This year, however, I have been here just as long as one person who participated in these conversations last year. (I hope that makes sense. That person has moved on from the role.)

Here’s a concrete example: I developed a tool this year for one client that has since been adapted for several other clients. Word got out in the community we served, and now other non-clients want us to come and give a talk about this tool. My colleague was asked to go give this talk, and I only heard about it from her in passing. Given that I created it, I imagine I should have the opportunity to be at this talk, and even help lead it.

Of course, a lot has run through my head about this. Does my boss not like me or think I do good work? I think she likes me quite a bit. I’ve independently led several projects that have generated so much positive publicity for the organization and for her, as my supervisor. When I needed a recommendation letter, she told me she would be thrilled to and only has glowing things to say about my work. Likewise, when I had my mid-year performance review, it was truly the best I’d had. (That has not always been the case. The one a year prior was lukewarm, as a result of a messy project I hadn’t managed well.)

I *do* find that she sometimes leads me down dead-ends — especially on a major project that she had me lead over a year ago that, to this day, has not materialized into anything substantial. I created the product, yes, but testing and implementing it has been incredibly stressful. She has refused to make a decision about it (she is incredibly indecisive and risk-averse), and I have given up trying to get buy-in for something I was *asked* to do in the first place.

Beyond how I feel about her management style, I would like to approach her about my feeling that I am not getting invited to important conversations. I want to know why that is, so that if it is an impression *I* am giving, that I can stop it immediately. Your thoughts?

Talk to her! Say something like this: “Jane often mentions to me that she’s been talking with you about our team’s strategic goals or the organization’s long-term vision, and I’d love to be included in conversations like that. I know those conversations often happen spontaneously, but when there are advance opportunities to be included and you think it makes sense, I’d really like to be.”

And if it fits in with the conversation, you can also ask, “Are there things I could do differently in my own performance that would lead me to being more involved in those types of discussions?”

Which that leads me to this: This might be less about something you’re doing wrong and more about something that your coworker is doing right. If she’s initiating strategic conversations with your manager and volunteering for projects, she might be simply making herself visible in a way that you’re not. In other words, it might not be that your manager is deliberately leaving you out, but rather than your coworker is putting herself in. And if so, you might look for ways that you can do that as well.

In fact, if you have a good relationship with your coworker, you could ask her about this too — not in a resentful way, of course, but something like, “I’ve noticed you and Emma often talk about things like this. I’d love to have those types of conversations with her too but for some reason I don’t seem to. Do you have any insight into how you’ve been able to make that happen, so that I can figure out what I can do on my end too?”

You might hear something in response that’s as simple as, “Oh, I just ask.”

But it’s also worth noting that that lukewarm performance evaluation from two years ago might still be lingering in your manager’s head — or more accurately, the performance that caused it. Performance problems can have a long shelf-life in managers’ memories, and even though you feel it’s behind you, it’s possible that she still looks at you as less skilled or reliable or less of a strategic thinker than your coworker. There might be something to that, or it might be wrong, but if none of the above works, you might consider that the echo of whatever happened that year could still be coloring the way she sees you. If that’s the case, and if tackling it head-on doesn’t work, it’s useful information to factor in as you ponder the next steps in your career.

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