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Winning by understanding the other person

We answer many letters at Office-Politics.com, and we’re thrilled when people write back to tell us whether the advice worked. Here is some new feedback we received today, on an Office-Politics letter and reply, originally posted in September, 2006. Congratulations go to the Supervisor for recognizing the opportunity to reach out to ‘Lucy’ and understand her better! Her signature – the Happy Supervisor — shows what a wonderful transformation has taken place. ~ Franke James

Feedback from New Supervisor, March 7, 2007

Dear Franke,

Hi! Well it certainly was a roller coaster ride in the beginning. Your advice was great, some right on target. Although she is not an older women in age she could easily be viewed as older in attitude.

I did in fact approach my director, hoping that he could give me advice, since he had worked with “Lucy” for 10 years. I didn’t give him all of the dirty details, because I know better than to do that, and it certainly would not have been very professional. I at least told him so he would be aware. He asked if I wanted him to talk to her, but I said no, I would give it a shot myself. In the long run this proved to be beneficial for me, since I am now being considered for a promotion.

One day, shortly after I contacted you, “Lucy” lashed out at me and a co-worker. My co-worker stormed away, but I saw it as an opportunity. I confronted “Lucy” with all of the issues at hand. At first, she was very angry, but as soon as I made it clear to her that I didn’t know how she felt, since she never communicated her feeling to me, the tone of the conversation changed.

This was a good thing because it gave “Lucy” an opportunity to see that others appreciated what she does and that I valued her work and expertise. It also helped her to understand what my role was in the workplace, since she clearly did not realize what my job description was.

In the end, the lesson here was all about the art of communication and how important it is in the workplace. Today, “Lucy” and I work very well together. There have always and probably will be a few bumps in the road, but having said that I will always make sure that when there is, we will not let things fester, and will patch things up right away.

Thanks for your advice!

The Happy Supervisor

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Original Office-Politics Letter from September 2006

Dear Office-Politics,

I just started a new job. I’m there approximately one month. I am highly qualified for the position and have previous experience.

The woman who trained me has been with the organization for 10 years, holding a part-time, evening position. She was promoted to a full time day position one month before I was hired. She is very knowlegable and “knows her stuff.” In fact she gave me most of my day to day training, although we have different job titles, some of our duties overlap.

I hold the supervisory position, but she holds the senority. She was very friendly at first, however she is not the flowery type by any means. She would be best characterized as rough around the edges. I have been nothing but complimentary to her and everything was just fine and dandy.

Then all of a sudden she turned on me like a bat out of hell. She indicated to a co-worker that I get things done too quickly and that she hopes that I haven’t made mistakes. She never says anything to my face, as a matter of fact she has now resorted to “the silent treatment.”

Apparently, I am not the only person, she also treated the previous woman in my position as well as some of her part time co-workers in this same way. I have started to ignore her, but my nature is to be friendly to people and feel that teamwork is usually more successful than isolation.

This has been going on for almost a week now. I feel awkward going to the Director at this stage and most of the literature I have read says that this can make things worse. It is a very small organization, there are 3 daytime workers and a Director. I really like and need my job. Do you have any advice on how I can handle this workplace bully?

Thanks,

New Supervisor

OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY FRANKE JAMES
franke james

Dear New Supervisor,

Your letter presents some interesting issues. To understand what may be happening let’s try to think from your coworker’s (we’ll call her Lucy) point of view. I have dubbed you the ‘Shiny New Employee’.

Lucy has been a part-time worker for 10 years. She manages to finally get hired full-time. She’s thrilled! Then, one month later a Shiny New Employee is hired as her supervisor. Lucy wonders why, since she’s been with the company 10 years (albeit part-time) she got passed over? Why isn’t she your supervisor? As you say, she is very knowledgeable and “knows her stuff.” Doesn’t the Director see how valuable she is? What’s her flaw?

But she puts her hurt feelings aside, acts like a professional, and trains you. However the knot inside her doesn’t go away, and in fact her resentment grows. You have learned the job so well that you are doing your tasks in half the time it takes her. She feels inferior to you in some ways, and is fearful that the Director will notice how quick you are, and how plodding she is by comparison. She might be demoted back to part-time or worse — fired!

If this scenario is plausible — and I’m just reading creatively between the lines, as to how I might feel in her shoes — then a positive strategy is have sympathy for her. This job is probably a stepping-stone for you to bigger and better things. Are you still going to be in the same job ten years from now? Unlikely. But for this woman — and perhaps she is not as old as I am guessing — this is her last kick at the can. Is this assumption correct?

So let’s return to what you might do to make your working life with her more pleasant. Awareness of her inferiority complex can make you more understanding, and more ready to give her a few pats on the back. Perhaps your Director is giving you praise, in which case you can share some of that limelight with Lucy, by saying, “I’m so glad you appreciate my work. Lucy taught me well.”

In your behavior with her be as kind and patient as possible. (This may be difficult but try.) When you’re talking to your coworkers, say something that recognizes Lucy’s contribution to the company. Word travels, and hearing that you spoke well of her will smooth out a lot of tensions. (But do not share with your coworkers the theory that Lucy has an inferiority complex!)

The main takeaway in my message to you is that there is a power imbalance. You are new, but you are Lucy’s supervisor. You are young. She is older. She has less power than you in the workplace. This may be causing resentment and feelings of inferiority by Lucy.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.com.

Franke

Franke James, MFA
Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com

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Franke James, MFA is the Editor & Founder of Office-Politics.com. She is also the Inventor of The Office-Politics® Game a dilemma-based social game that teaches you how to play, and laugh, at office politics. It’s used by HR departments, and corporate trainers worldwide. The Office-Politics Dilemmas have been inspired by the hundreds of letters submitted to Office-Politics.com.

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