You were hoping that the issues were strictly between yourself and Nora. But the damage was collateral. Read Part I
Around her, your peers were walking on eggshells too. It's all the same: always interrupting, always having to be right, always having the last word.
As a manager, you learned to tolerate the occasional quirks, put downs and holier-than-thou attitudes of your stars. However, Nora hasn't paid her dues, let alone earned stardom. Worse, the situation has hit human resources' radar. You now realize someone like Nora could actually derail your career.
Yesterday, we looked at how setting boundaries and providing a broader perspective can pacify a challenging employee. Here are some additional approaches:
• Make It Real. Nora is giving out those vibes. Conscious or not, your team can feel it simmering. It frays that dynamic you've worked so hard to build. Sure, team members occasionally crumble under family, health and money pressures. But this has grown from a distraction to an obstacle. It's time to re-direct her to the bigger picture.
With Noras, focus on self-awareness. Start by describing how the behaviors impact you. How does it divert your time, focus and energy—and how does that affect the team and company at large? In turn, how does that ultimately hurt them? Let them see the world from your eyes. How would they, as managers, react to their attitudes and actions? What larger purpose do they serve? Would you feel comfortable giving them wider exposure or grooming them for something larger? Give them real life scenarios: what would happen if they acted this way in front of a client or upper management?
Similarly, outline their impact on their peers, particularly their perceptions of them. Share how such behavior inevitably dissolves goodwill, credibility, respect and team cohesiveness. Keep the attention on how their approach is self-defeating. Paint the picture so they see themselves in a new light. Get them centered back on the mission and the criteria upon which they are measured.
In the process, avoid sweeping and judgmental statements. Speak only for yourself and use inclusive terms like "we." Keep the focus on the behaviors, not the person. Concentrate on spoken words and first-hand experiences—you're not a psychologist. Don't be afraid to gently pick apart hypocrisies and inconsistencies to reveal their logical end point: they are choosing to feel this way. Watch your body language, whether it's folded arms, rolling eyes or exasperated sighs. They can undermine everything you say. Recognize there is a power difference…and never use it. And don't play games by responding slower or excluding them; you're above those punitive measures.
Over time, your efforts will hopefully reveal that their emotions have overridden their logic and self-interest, that they haven’t thought everything through. And that's the first thing you want: for them to recognize the value of restraint and awareness. The second? To give them a chance to save face and keep their dignity.
• Look at Yourself. How do you perceive yourself as a manager? Chances are, you envision yourself as friendly, flexible, responsive and open-minded. You imagine your team views you as a strong communicator and trainer who conveys enthusiasm and promotes fairness and transparency. Maybe it's time for a dose of humility.
Hard as it is to hear, you may be part of the problem—no matter how outlandish the other person's conduct. And it all starts with those disparities between how you see yourself, how you really are and how the other person views you. Assess the situation. What is setting off the other person—and how are you pouring gas on the proverbial fire? Is she defensive about criticism? Maybe it's word choice, tone and overall delivery. Is she withdrawn? Maybe you're not doing the continuous small talk and relationship building needed to allay future misunderstandings. In short, look at your reactions and how you carry yourself. Your employee may be reacting to—or even modeling—you.
• Pick Your Battles. Define what is important and what can be ignored. Take coaches, for example. Many possess selective hearing. Twenty years ago, Detroit Pistons Coach Chuck Daly would ignore occasional snide remarks from star guard Isiah Thomas. Daly knew when to quietly rein in Thomas. And he understood Thomas was a competitor who could deliver at crunch time. Bottom line: you'll have to take a stand…or it'll eventually get worse. But don't nitpick: they'll simply tune you out over time.
• Keep Your Guard Up: We've all heard the cliché "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." That is especially true in a personality conflict. It's natural to drop your guard as you grow comfortable with your team. But now you're not quite so sure about one person's motives. Will they get dirty and play you off against the others? Shoot for your job? Tear down everything you’ve worked so hard to build?
It might be time to weigh the worst case scenario. Sometimes, punishment is the only option that gets attention. Start keeping detailed documentation; it may come to documentation, reprimands and even termination. Like it or not, a fired employee is a reflection on your judgment, management temperament and coaching. Maybe the damage is already done. Maybe any outreach or effort is slapping a band-aid on a gunshot wound. Do it anyway. Give them—and yourself—every chance to change.
• Stay Focused: Despite all the headaches, keep your attention on your own performance. Your real risk is not from the Noras, but from losing sight of your job: driving revenue, meeting deadlines, ensuring quality, growing your team and protecting the people above you. If you slide in any of those areas, you'll find yourself back alongside Nora—in the unemployment line. Sure, you need to find a way to work together. But give it the appropriate weight. You have bigger issues to worry about.
SMM online columnist Jeff Schmitt works in publishing in Dubuque, IA. His column, "The Personal Touch," is designed to help managers and professionals step back and evaluate how they think, interact and work. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.