Editor’s Note: This article is one of the top 10 most uncomfortable work situations of 2015. See the full list here.
You might assume that once you get promoted to a management position, respect from your employees will come automatically. But just because some people recognize your leadership skills and knowledge doesn’t mean everyone will.
This week, leadership coach Lolly Daskal helps a reader manage a direct report who is giving off some disrespectful vibes.
I’m in a midlevel position at my company and I have one direct report. I hired this person and we work closely together, and he’s really good at his job. The problem is I don’t think he respects me at all. He doesn’t do or say anything that’s blatantly out of line, but it’s a general feeling I get from most of our interactions.
I feel like he thinks he’s smarter than me or that he could do my job better than me. I’m not threatened by him (I know I’m great at my job and I think I’m a good manager), but I don’t know how to confront him about this since maybe it’s just a feeling I have from his tone and general vibe.
All of us have experienced the feeling of being disrespected. And when disrespect is present, it can be difficult to move forward. Disrespect does not have to be blatant; it can be a snide remark offered as a joke, eyes rolled, an unwarranted remark, or even just being ignored. Whatever form it takes, it is not something you should have to put up with.
Sometimes we try to ignore something negative, hoping it will go away or improve on its own. But respect is an integral part of any work environment. It’s almost impossible for individuals or teams to be effective without it.
So as you move forward, here are a few things to think about:
Your own state of mind. This might be a sensitive topic, but because I don’t know and I don’t have all the details, I have to ask. Are you coming to work feeling insecure? Is it possible that you’re giving off vibes that allow for such behavior? Relationships are by definition a two-way street, and in any kind of relationship issue, it’s always a good idea to ask yourself whether you might unconsciously be inviting or even contributing to the other person’s behavior.
Self-respect. Does your employee seem to have a healthy level of self-respect? It’s a necessary part of giving respect to others. Either extreme of the spectrum—low self-esteem or a raging ego—can cause problems in regards to giving respect to others.
Emotional intelligence. Could it be simply that your employee lacks self-awareness and emotional intelligence? Is it possible he’s stressed by something in or outside the workplace and is responding badly to that stress?
Be specific and clear. After you think you’ve done all you can to gain insight into the dynamics of the situation, it’s time to speak up. Be clear and specific. One approach is to ask straight out if he has a problem working with you. If he says yes, make it clear that he is free to dislike you, but working together requires mutual respect. If he says no, you may want to describe examples of his behavior and explain how it made you feel.
Set clear expectations. Let him know what behavior you require and what you will not tolerate. The clearer you are about your expectations, the more control you will have over the situation. If you think it would be helpful and well-received, recommend that he consider working with a coach or counselor to see his behavior more clearly. Watch your own behavior to make sure you’re modeling what you want to see.
Serve as a model. The workplace should be an environment where respect is freely shared. Colleagues may disagree, but they should always serve as role models for self-respect and respectful interactions with others.
Know when to move on. If the disrespectful behavior continues, you may have to suggest that he begin looking for another position where he can build better relationships and work more effectively.
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