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Stuck in the middle with you

March 10, 2022   ·  

This month we are thrilled to introduce Grace Judson who has written an article based on the perspective on middle managers as part of our guest blog spotlight with Harkn.


As a middle manager, that oft-maligned and seldom-appreciated role, you are very definitely stuck in the middle between your boss and senior leadership, and your team.

It’s a hard place to be. You’ve got to mediate between what your senior leadership wants – which may or may not be fully explained or effectively communicated – and what your team needs in order to be productive and effective.

How can you make it work for everyone?

Let’s look at five skills that will help.

  1. Understand your boss

What matters to them? What are they held accountable for? What goals are on their performance plan? What keeps them up at night? What irritates them? When is their best time of day to be productive? How do they prefer to communicate?

  1. Use your understanding (for good)

When you know what matters to your boss, what they’re being judged and rewarded on, what they worry about, what annoys them, and when their most productive time of day is – you can act accordingly.

You’ll know to prioritise the things that matter, support the things they’re evaluated on, and avoid annoying them or interrupting them at the wrong time.

And by paying attention to their communication preferences, you’ll be able to give them what they need in the format they want – so they’ll pay attention to what you need.

Please note that this isn’t “sucking up,” “brown-nosing,” or playing icky politics.

It’s showing empathy and understanding and care.

Wouldn’t you want that for yourself?

  1. Understand your people

So yes: do the same for your people.

And especially understand what type of feedback they prefer. For instance, some people thrive on public acknowledgement; others want a quiet word in private. And I promise you that everyone loves a hand-written note.

  1. Positive feedback

Feedback starts with not waiting until the annual performance review. Feedback – both positive and negative – should happen all the time. But you knew that already!

On the positive side, catch people doing something right, and tell them exactly what it was. (Harkn is a good tool for this, of course!)

And not just a generic “thanks” or “good job,” but specifically what you’re thanking them for: what was it that they did well?

  1. Constructive feedback

Every manager’s least favorite thing to do: give constructive or corrective feedback.

Don’t wait; get it over with. Be up front and, just as with positive feedback, be specific. Make it about the behaviour, not the person. Here’s what went wrong and here’s the impact it had, and here’s what I expect going forward.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention communication

Communication is the foundation of all these skills.

Letting people know what’s going on; telling them what they’re doing well and not-so-well; finding out how they’re doing. These are the things that create trust.

Trust is the key

All these behaviours – and so many more than fit into an article – help build trust.

Trust between you and your boss, and between you and your team.

Because when there’s trust (which takes time and attention to build) then you’ll be respected, you’ll be cared for by your manager and by your team, and you’ll know you’re caring for them in return.

And that’s a big step forward in creating a humane, productive workplace.

Which, of course, is precisely what Harkn helps create. Because with Harkn, you’ll get the in-the-moment feedback you need to understand your boss, understand your people, provide positive feedback and support, and know where communication is working and where it might need some help.

Put simply, Harkn helps build trust in organisations.

(Oh, and … you’re welcome for the “Stuck in the middle with you” earworm. (Song by Stealers Wheel))

Katie Range
Katie Range

Marketing Manager

Employee engagementLeadership

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