61

I started my software engineer career six years back in a company. I always used prefix "Sir" when communicating with the director of that company (both emails and verbally).

After two years I resigned from that company. But I still used "Sir" when talking with that director.

Now I am working as a "Tech Lead" in another company. Today, I got a confirmation from HR, a new person will join as a "Senior Software Engineer" next month.

He is the same director! (His company was shutdown about 2-3 months back).

Now my problem is how should I communicate with him? I always used "Sir" when I was talking with him and I have huge respect for him. But after just one month he will work under me. I have no idea how I should communicate with him. I am not comfortable even saying "do this work", etc....

And please note that, we never call "Sir" unless he is a teacher, upper level position person, or a customer /client in Sri Lankan culture. So, if I call as "Sir" for my team member or person in lower level me (I mean job position wise), people will think that I am crazy person.

Update : I invite him to a dinner and discuss with him about this thing. Idea got from Nemanja Trifunovic

  • "I am not comfortable even saying "do this work"" Keep in mind that this is a somewhat distinct and much more serious problem than mere awkwardness around addressing someone whose level in the hierarchy changed. The answers below don't really cover this and you may want to ask a separate question about managing a person who used to manage you, assuming one doesn't already exist. – Lilienthal Oct 27 '17 at 15:15
25

Can you meet him before he starts and openly discuss it? I am pretty sure that if you tell him what you wrote here there will be nothing awkward after he starts working.

110

How to deal / talk with new employee who was in upper level and now join as junior for me?

Treat him like you would anyone else that works with you. With respect and honesty. I would stop calling him sir now unless you call everyone else that, and address him as you do your other peers and team members.

This person will already be anxious starting a new position, at a new level, in a new company. Don't do anything to make his journey any more challenging than it has to be.

When assigning work to him do it without fear, and do it just like you would for anyone else. If you treat this person differently (with more respect for example), your other co-workers will notice. You don't want to be seen as treating this person special.

Discipline your mind so that you can treat him appropriately: Just like everyone else.

  • 15
    I agree with this answer but be wary of cultural differences. In some cultures, stopping to call someone sir abruptly after they become your subordinate may be considered disrespectful (but lesser and lesser these days, at least in software development). It may help if you talk to him separately before the first encounter in office when you call him by his name. – Nivas Oct 24 '17 at 13:59
  • Giving work to that person, just like you do with all other team members, that's ok (it's even obvious), but why do you need to stop saying "Sir" to that person? You feel comfortable doing that, he might do as well, and if anybody says something about it, you can explain the history between the both of you. As long as you don't refrain giving work to that person as you do with any other person, you're not to blame. – Dominique Oct 25 '17 at 8:37
  • 2
    @Dominique The comfort of the manager is the least important thing here. Giving special treatment to a single employee is only going to raise resentment among all the others. And that will also be anything but fun for the employee himself. – Voo Oct 25 '17 at 12:43
8

You may want to meet with him privately when he starts for a "get to know you" session. Chances are, he's going to be as uncomfortable, if not more so, as you.

He likely remembers you and there's a certain shame that many people experience after things go wrong and they need to pick themselves up and start over. You need to build a new relationship with him and feel him out as to where he is. If he feels like he's still your superior, you need to nip that in the bud. If he's feeling like he's failed, you may need to support him.

What you need to remember first and foremost, is that your relationship now is different than the one it was and you are BOTH going to need to adjust. Meeting with him privately is the best way.

Also, do not bring this up with your team. If it eventually comes out, deal with it then, but you don't want them to be in an awkward position either. Then, get your head in the right place. He's just another member of your team.

3

As long as you communicate in a respectful way there is nothing to worry about, sure it can be a little awkward at first, but its part of being professional. Now he is below you, it makes more sense to call him by his name, so if you wanna be more 'cool' about this turn of events you could insist in he calling you by your name too. That respect can be translated in treating him in the best way possible, no matter how he treated you in the past

3

Now my problem is how should I communicate with him?

As the other answers provide, deal with him the same way you deal with other members of your team. Try to be objective as much as possible esp. for business-related conversations. At some point biases arise, so try to catch such thoughts/instances and avoid those because they will certainly call the attention of your team members, and would cause problems.

I always used "Sir" when I was talking with him and I have huge respect for him.

As suggested by the others, try to initiate calling each other using your first names. You can show that you have a huge respect for him, even if you don't call him 'Sir'. Respect can still be manifested and observed in other ways. If he's a good leader from your point of view, he should be professional, matured and humble enough to work with you in this new setup, where you are his leader.

In my opinion, there's no problem if you would still call him 'Sir' if he has more experiences than you do (the context would be seniority in the professional arena). If he finds this awkward, he'd be the one who'll request you to stop calling him 'Sir'.

I am not comfortable even saying "do this work", etc...

Why? Because it would be awkward to delegate work to him? I suggest treating tasks as collaborative efforts for the company you're working in. It might take some time to be absorbed and realised, but it might help you in the long run.

Finally, just be yourself. This is actually your chance to showcase to him how you lead. So, relax and communicate to him the same way you communicate with the other members.

  • If anything, the OP should be more comfortable in assigning tasks to this person than any other new employee, as you have a better idea of his capabilities, knowledge, and strengths. – RDFozz Oct 25 '17 at 19:11
2

While it may that the context is different, I think an example from academia would be useful here. PhD-track grad students are encouraged to address full-time professors by their 1st name (in the US). This can be a shock to a student who goes from undergrad to grad school in the same university. The whole point is to emphesize flattening of power structure because grad students are expected to become peers of the professors once they do attain the PhD.

How is this related to your situation? Practice saying this person's 1st name in front of a mirror a few times. And have a conversation with them on day one where you are very casual (respectful, but still casual maybe even jovial) and make the point of addressing them by their 1st name. Make it so that you are overheard (speak a little louder if you have to) by others. This will set the tone that the past is just anecdotal. It does not determine (even if it has some influence) on how you proceed forward.

  • That's interesting. On Brazil, it kinda happens in the opposite direction - the professors start calling their former students by their last names. It's a different tone - it's not about the student losing respect, but about the professor respecting the student more. – T. Sar Oct 25 '17 at 19:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.