I have been asked to manage a few coworkers on an ongoing reporting project that is fairly low scale in the priority of our division. These coworkers are younger, newer, and still learning the ropes, and I’ve been at this company for seven years.
Part of the problem is our work environment, which is generally tightly controlled and can be discouraging, and these newbies complain regularly about being micromanaged by our boss. I want to be flexible and encourage them to enjoy the project. When I suggest they take on a task they showed some interest in, or just encourage them to (gasp) actually participate in the project, I have gotten no reply, or some eye rolling, and/or have overheard conversations about moi like “he should have just assigned blah blah to do blah blah.” I have tried to delegate a la “Ok, Suzy, why don’t you tackle the blabbity blah?” and get … the same response. I give them deadlines and guidelines to keep them aware of what we need to do and how.
Recently one of them whined to me about some minor edits I made to their writing, but my writing skills are one reason I was put in the position to “oversee” the project. I wind up doing most of the research, analysis, and writing. The remaining tasks of pulling everything together into a nice presentation are what my coworkers end up feigning interest in. Oddly enough, despite my indigestion, we have finished the submission on time each time, and so far, the results have been well praised. The interpersonal aspects are discouraging despite the successful end result. Do I just assign things and ignore their collective discounting of me behind my back? Is it a good idea to alert them that I’m aware of their grumbling?
I had hoped this assignment would be a chance for all of us to think creatively and collaboratively. Another aspect to this dynamic is that the noobs are approaching a state of cliqueness. I was really surprised to pick up on a disregard for my work and softer management style. I sense a weird almost laughing at me at times. I’ve thought maybe it’s immaturity? The younger one is almost 30, but there is not a whole lot of work experience between the two of them. So how do I intimidate them like Dirty Harry?
Dirty Harry in training
Dear Dirty Harry in training,
You are in a tough spot in terms of traversing the treacherous (generational) waters of office politics. Don’t give up — you don’t need to be a Dirty Harry to succeed. Your so-called ‘softer’ management style — with a few adjustments — is just what’s needed to deal with your coworkers, while keeping your reputation, professional relationships and career intact.
Start first by working on the wedge issues between you and the newbies. Make sure they know you have an open-door policy and can reach out to you when concerns arise. (You don’t, however, have to wait for them to make the first move. Be proactive and check in with them from time to time.)
It is OK to tune into the grapevine (their grumblings) as long as you don’t feed it. But don’t engage in gossip, play favorites or openly criticize. In short, emphasize integrity by walking the talk.
Try to get a sense of why their interest is waning in pulling together presentations. What would they prefer to be doing? Be open to the potential of helping them expand beyond their current capacities so they feel challenged. You don’t need to be best buddies, but you do need to be able to work together in a collaborative, productive manner.
- Remember, all politics is local. Here’s a simple solution: Be friendly. Small talk is more important than many people think. Occasionally taking breaks from the reporting project to express an interest in the lives of your staff can help you connect on a basic level, diffuse tension, or firm up collegial relationships.
- Practice teamwork. Offer to help out colleagues who seem overwhelmed with a project. Not only will this smooth working relationships with these individuals, but it will also make them more likely to return the favor whenever you need help.
- Squash the squabbles. Don’t let conflict fester. When you’re upset or frustrated when dealing with Suzy, for example, take some time to cool off, but then express your concerns directly. Perhaps a brief one-on-one conversation or regular, informal check-ins will allow you to monitor morale and identify the current climate or concerns. Be straightforward and tactful, but leave out feelings.
- Connect on their level. Interacting with a mix of personalities can be challenging. Gain an edge by taking note of how these coworkers prefer to correspond. This generation uses instant messaging, social media and texting. You don’t necessarily have to speak in Twitter language #millennials, but understanding how they prefer to communicate will help you better relate.
- Share the glory. While there’s nothing wrong with occasionally “tooting your own horn,” be sure you also go out of your way to publicly comment on the superb teamwork and the efforts of others that made an initiative possible.
Navigating office politics, especially as a manager, involves common sense, courtesy and compromise. It also takes time to establish mutual respect. Don’t expect a transformation overnight. As you work at it, the whining and eye rolling from the team will cease. You can find more tips here: How to Navigate Office Politics: Your Guide to Getting Ahead
At our company we’ve had some fun looking at what happens when office politics goes awry… check out our ongoing career bloopers video series, “Don’t Let This Happen to You.”
Best of luck! Thanks for writing to OfficePolitics.com!
Senior Executive Director, Robert Half
Paul McDonald is senior executive director with Robert Half International (NYSE: RHI), the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm. Our divisions place professionals on a temporary, temporary-to-hire, and full-time basis in the accounting and finance, technology, office administration, legal, and creative, marketing and design fields. McDonald joined the company in 1984 as a recruiter in Boston, following a public accounting career with Price Waterhouse. In the 1990s, he became president of the western United States overseeing all of RHI’s operations and most recently served as senior executive director of Robert Half Management Resources. Over the course of his nearly 30-year career with the company, he has spoken and written extensively on employment and management issues based on his work with thousands of client companies and job seekers.