Anyone who’s worked in any organization has confronted at least one personality who anointed them the wrong way or seemed to wreak havoc wherever they went.
Perhaps you ignored them, swept up the shattered china, requested different shifts, or played nice, while your latent irritation mounted and inevitably gushed out at the absolute wrong moment.
However you did it, there was some escape so, while you seemed to be in a battle, it had its respites. But what if you are managing them and the buck stops with you? And they don’t fall into line? And they have your cell number?
Suddenly, it feels like you’ve HALO-jumped into an uphill, all-out assault with nothing but a kitchen knife.
I encountered this situation when I moved into an upper-management position at my company and was given the reins in my department.
First, there was the joy of making my schedule, working at my own pace, and getting better pay. My hard work and being in the right place at the right time had shown fruit. I conveniently forgot that my promotion left a subordinate position open and that I would be managing an assistant. Helplessly doe-eyed, I was unformulated for the next few assignments.
In the offices where I’ve worked, I am the person who and you may relate–goes about his business, gets things done quickly, and enjoys the structured environment. Shorter version? A lone wolf.
As reality would have it, this doesn’t work when someone’s looking to you for direction, and certainly not when that person openly admits they want to replace you at some point shortly. Yikes.
Hopefully, you never expect to hear these words from the assistance team, but I had, and as a result, I learned a lot from our healthy work relationship.
1. You Cannot Control Them
In the early phases, this may sound like demotivating news, but the more you handle it, the better your professional life working with them will become. You’ve been placed in a management position, so you might be a bit of a control freak with your schedule, time, health conditions, proper sleep, and your productivity.
First of all, your time goes out of the window when you’re managing. And having an attitude of control when dealing with a person is like carrying water in a sieve–once it becomes a battle of wills, they’ll find a way around you.
You will spend valuable hours wondering what on earth they could be doing, which cuts down on your efficacy and breeds bitterness. Also, if you feel like you need to control them, you’re probably talking to them with an authoritative tone, which only fuels their dissent. This isn’t to say they haven’t earned that treatment, but if the project doesn’t get done, your superiors aren’t going to care that they gave you a hard time.
2. Your Thoughts Matter
Perhaps you fancy yourself an excellent actor or actress, but you’re probably far less mysterious than you think you are and, if you don’t like someone, they’ll see it.
You may have heard that words carry a fraction of the weight in human communication, but the scarier reality is that body language–essentially a projection of our subconscious–bears the most responsibility for communication.
The famous lyric “my hips don’t lie” is thus true in a much broader sense. If you’re uncomfortable with someone, you’ll avoid touching them, your body will angle differently, and your shoulders will be stiff.
Whether or not they are aware of the process, their mind will take in the inducement, interpret it and understand that you don’t like them. As a manager, you have to realize you can’t fake it, do the hard thing, and address your thoughts.
In practice, I forced myself to think good things about my assistant’s character on my long commute. Then, after interactions, I would not think of the things done wrong, but about what went well. It emerged all the must differences – my attitude, words, and relationship with others.
3. You Must Set the Stage
The less ambiguity at the onset of a conversation, the less room there is for default emotions, such as irritation, confusion, and opposition.
On most days, to keep us on task and working together, I would email a quick list of what needed to get done, give the assistant time to look it over, then do an in-person check-in for specifics. This assured me to set the stage for the discussion, by allowing clarity, purpose, and open communication immediately.
If there’s a clear purpose to a conversation and the workday, plus a little time before meeting to gather your thoughts, both of you will be better off. If the person seems displeased, ask them about it and don’t give yourself time to imagine what they meant. It’s a waste of time, and you’re probably way off base in your assumptive conclusions.
Some of the phrases I used were the following: “Am I making sense? What do you think? Do you see a better way? You seem [emotion]–was it something I did or said?” If they won’t be honest, there’s not much you can do, but it’s worth a shot, and you can rest easy knowing you did all you could.
When you encounter a challenge, you may tend to think it’s best to embrace what’s new, rather than learning from what has come before.
Never Doubt You Have the Power to Change Things
If you’re not satisfied with an aspect of the workplace, work hard to change it. Margaret Mead was a cultural anthropologist who was most active in the 1960s and 70s. She urged, “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. It is the only thing that ever has.”
Making a difference might be something as simple as working with an environmental supply company to sell supplies that support environmental research and sustainability, or it may involve going to a marriage equality rally if you want to speak out in favor of that issue. Whatever you believe in, you don’t have to wait until you have a huge crowd of support behind you before taking action.
So there you have it! My views on managing a person who doesn’t want to be. That’ why organizations like MAAM, Life Based Learning put so much focus on creating a work environment where interactions between people get developed and involving management people to let them define the growth objectives and activate this potential.
These three principles are simplistic and should be practiced in addition to asking how someone would like to be managed, while honestly trying to incorporate suggestions. I just found these to be helpful when I thought I had done everything and felt like the war was going to be an 8 – 5 reality.
In the end, I learned that the most crucial responsibility of being a true leader is not calling the shots and not exposing fault–it is doing the enormously harder task of observing oneself and altering thought patterns to get results.
It’s not that easy-breezy, but if it were, would the results be so fascinating? Surely, not.