Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine encourages a newly promoted manager to have a chat with a tricky colleague
“I work for a major supermarket chain and six months ago, I got bumped up to section head. I had worked hard for the promotion, putting in lots of extra hours and always going the extra mile to get things done. It’s hard work, as managing people is new to me, but I do enjoy my new role.
“Most of the people I now supervise have accepted me with good grace, including some that had worked in the section far longer than me. Contudo, one man is doing all he can to undermine me. If I ask him to do something, he doesn’t look at me and hardly ever acknowledges the task I have given him. And if he does do it, it’s in a way that he knows is contrary to the way I prefer.
“Some weeks back, I also got the creepy feeling that he was watching me when he thought I wasn’t aware, probably hoping to catch me making a mistake that he could then profit by. When my predecessor warned me about him a few days ago, I knew it wasn’t just me being paranoid. I feel that this situation is getting out of hand, and I do not know how to deal with it for the best.
“Should I talk to my boss? I have been reluctant to do this so to date for fear of appearing weak, but what else can I do?”
“I’m glad you’re doing well. Sadly though, as more women reach senior positions, other people can feel threatened when a woman is put in charge. That may be the case here – as I think you believe it to be – or it may be something else entirely.
“From the way you describe this man’s behaviour, I also cannot help but wonder if he doesn’t have a mental health issue of some kind. His failure to make eye contact and the fact that he does tasks in his own way, rather than the way you’d prefer him to, may be nothing to do with you at all. It may simply be a manifestation of his behaviour and something that – if he is capable of doing his job correctly – you may have to learn to deal with.
“Rather than resort to any kind of formal procedure, perhaps try having an informal chat with this man first, if you haven’t already? Choose a time when you won’t be disturbed or when others may be listening. Point out that as you are his manager, it is in everyone’s best interest that you co-operate together. Then ask what he needs from you to enable him to do his job to the best of his ability. He may very well surprise you.
“You could ask him to explain why he did the task you asked him to do in a way contrary to your way of doing things – he may have a perfectly logical explanation. You say you thought he was watching you and that you found this creepy, so ask him – far from trying to catch you out, he may have been watching to try and learn.
“If, por outro lado, he really does have a problem with you, a quiet one-to-one may well tease out what the problem is too. Getting him to talk about it may make things clearer. If he felt ‘passed over’ for your job, por exemplo, then suggest you look for ways – together – to help him gain the skills that will put him in the running the next time an opportunity arises.
“Make it clear to him that it’s in everyone’s best interests that you can work together as a team – being heard and being recognised may be enough to bring him around.
“It is possible, Apesar, that he’s never going to change, and you might find it helpful to do a managerial or assertiveness training course. Speak to your boss about this as it may be something the company offers, and far from being seen as failing at the task you’ve been given to do, you’ll look like someone keen to make a success of it.”
If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to email@example.com for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.