I recently took over a job as the director of my department. I don’t gossip, I am polite to everyone and I work very hard to meet deadlines. However my staff refuses to follow action plans and are extremely rude to me. I have just recently learned that I am the most ‘hated’ person in my office and I do not know what to do.
How can I change things around? The bottom line is that their workload is larger than it was before I started, but that was because their old director was lax. So what should I do?
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY DR. RICK BRANDON AND DR. MARTY SELDMAN
Dear Unfairly Hated,
In your brief letter there was scant information, but we will try to answer your dilemma with some basic concepts. Although, we realize that you, too, may feel you’re in an absence of reliable information, we must wonder how you know that you are the most hated person? And if it’s true, the person who tips you off should also be able to tell you what the perception is about you that creates this problem, so that you can then formulate a conscious plan to alter the inaccurate, unfair perception. Make it worthwhile for the few friends you say you have to align with you and help you combat any unearned negative “buzz.”
If the reason is indeed due to your holding people accountable for higher performance expectations than your predecessor, here are some reminders of things you already know:
1) IT COMES WITH THE TERRITORY
If you’re the Director, regardless of past norms, you have the right and responsibility to raise the bar as long as you are fair, clear, and consistent with expectations. Conduct one-on-one meetings to establish rapport and work through explicit job roles and assignments while also non-defensively hearing push-back resistance (e.g. “Yes, Joe, I realize that this was not formerly part of your role and how that’s a more stressful job now. I appreciate your cooperation on this since I’ve been asked to bring the entire department forward in an equitable manner so that we keep our competitive advantage. i can only promise that I will be fair and I’ll be doing my share as well. If we all pitch in equally, I am confident we’ll achieve great things and also have a reasonable balance of work and family lives. How can I support you to get your piece done, whether it’s better training, resources, etc.?”)
You get the idea, you’re a manager, so manage! You’re a Director, so direct!
2) DO NOT TRASH YOUR PREDECESSOR WHO WAS LAX
Just because you’re establishing new ground rules does not mean you should bad-mouth anyone else. Just make it clear there is a ‘new sheriff in town’ without being pompous or heavy handed.
3) EARN TRUST
You sound like a good person, kind, not overly political, so we hunch that if you are honest, ask for the team’s help, and do right by others, that unless you are working with the Hitler’s, Jack the Ripper’s, and Stalin’s of the world, that folks will gradually come around and cut you some slack.
4) TACKLE RUDE BEHAVIOR HEAD-ON
Whether people are ticked or not, do not accept rude behavior. Make clear agreements with people that ‘respect’ is something you will give and that you expect to receive. State exactly which behaviors are not OK and confront (in private) when someone crosses you. If the pattern is group wide, don’t be afraid to note in a group the pattern you observe, that you have heard it might be due to upset about workload, and then go ahead and give your little rap about wanting to be fair while raising the bar (if it’s true), but regardless of your job approval, you do not believe any displeasure justifies rude language because you are not treating people similarly. Act the part and they may treat you appropriately. Balance firm language with empathy for people’s feelings, right or wrong. Their frustration, resentment, and even anger can be fully empathized with and actively heard and paraphrased without buying into it allowing destructive behavior.
Good luck! Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.
Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success
Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.
Publication note: This letter was originally published in July, 2005. We are republishing the best letters from Office-Politics and integrating them with our blog format.