10

There are one or two similar questions here, I am sure, but I feel my situation might be quite specific in that I have no disciplinary authority over this person, yet I manage him. The other difference is that I personally take no offense, but since his work involves a lot of formal and informal communication across the business I am now concerned that he is spreading bad ideas about me (which is not good for my perceived performance/visibility/politics/etc). The solution might therefore have to be a political and informal approach.

The background situation is that I was promoted and manage the work of my former peers, yet our former manager still has the final say on overall direction and owns all line reporting duties. You could say that he still heads the team, but I run and implement its objectives and strategies.

The team is very close-knit, yet this problem person always seems to want to prove that he is one step ahead of me. That brings some good problem-solving and idea-sharing, but his intentions don't seem pure i.e. he singles me out and responds to nearly 99% of what I say with joking sarcasm to stern aggressive disagreement.

And if I agree with him, he advertises that as his own intellectual victory over me (including remarks like "There you have it, I am always right!" or "In your face!") :-(

Since he is also very good at work I have always put the team/business interests first and put him on paths that gave him many opportunities to grow and shine, defended him from other managers sometimes and helped him overcome stumbling blocks.

I think he recognizes this and I personally feel that I have done a really good job managing his growth and motivation... but for some reason he still seems to think he is competing against me and constantly makes joking remarks to belittle or discredit me.

A few more examples of his style:

  • "Who ordered us to follow procedure A? Ha, and now we are doing B and it completely shows how A was complete nonsense!"
  • "I did procedure X and I am completely successful! Obviously, he (pointing at me) is going to pat himself on the back because he suggested it and delegated it to me, but I had to do all the dirty work myself!"

I am honestly not too annoyed by these remarks, but now that he speaks with more and more senior managers across the company, I am concerned that they might not get the full picture of the situation.

Considering that I cannot change him, what can I do about this in terms of guarding my image across the company?

  • 3
    Have you tried talking to him? – Kevin Jun 13 '14 at 7:57
  • @Ajaxkevi - Yes, when we talk in private he is respectful and cooperative. He never speaks the way above unless we are in a social situation. // I never thought of addressing this specific aspect because I am not personally offended by it; my concern is more about the politics. How could I tell him? "Hey, your remarks are funny and all, but if the senior guys hear this they might get the wrong idea about me"? – DanAurora Jun 13 '14 at 8:16
  • 2
    He is undermining your authority, even though you do not take offense (which is a good thing in my opinion). You should tell him the remarks he is making are unprofessional and ask him why he is making them. – Kevin Jun 13 '14 at 8:41
  • You "manage" him and yet you have no disciplinary authority? Your position is not management, it's a cruel (to you) mockery of it. – EvilSnack Jan 20 at 20:02
16

You should ask him to a private meeting, praise the dickens out of his work, and then explain how making snide remarks publicly makes people focus on the relations in the team rather than the great work he's doing.

Thanks!

You say, "he is also very good at work I have always put the team/business interests first and put him on paths that gave him many opportunities to grow and shine, defended him from other managers sometimes and helped him overcome stumbling blocks."

Lead with that.

Hey, I wanted to let you know that I've been really impressed by your work quality recently. You've been improving quickly and made a lot of big wins for our group and I really appreciate all the work you've been putting in to help us all out.

Everyone loves a compliment. Especially when you're being honest. It really makes you feel like a million dollars and makes you far more agreeable to whatever ends up said next.

Output, not politics

You guys are being judged on your output as a team, and when the team doesn't look good, all of you get a little tarnish on your reputation. This person may not realize it, so it can't hurt to point it out:

Instead of focusing on how awesome our team's output is, I've been hearing a lot of hushed comments from other managers about our team dynamics. Apparently some of the comments like "Who ordered us to follow procedure A? Ha, and now we are doing B and it completely shows how A was complete nonsense!" are making them think that our great work is masking other problems that need to be addressed, and focusing on those problems instead.

I know you're just taking the piss, and that's fine internally, but when addressing people outside the team, toning it down will make us all look better, and will really let people focus on your output instead of politics.

Adjust 'taking the piss' for something appropriate to you, and if you don't want him doing this within your team, then obviously take that bit out. The point you want to make is that the snide comments are hurting how people perceive his awesome work, and giving him a way to prevent that from happening. Be honest, don't make stuff up if it isn't true, so adjust the above to fit your situation as appropriate.

  • 1
    I've always followed this format, but made it a "compliment sandwich" so you start and end on a good note with a point of improvement to think about. It gives the feeling that they're doing awesome, and that's how they can be more awesome. – littlekellilee Jun 13 '14 at 16:41
  • Edit the bottom piece of bread on there @littlekellilee, and it will be an even better answer! – jmac Jun 13 '14 at 17:10
  • You might also point out that "dumb insolence" can be grounds for disciplinary action. – Pepone Jun 13 '14 at 17:30
  • @littlekellilee, people vary, I hate when people start in with a compliment when they have something negative to tell you. It almost always comes across as phoney. And it is usually ineffective at getting the point across becasue people hear the good parts and skip right over the bad. – HLGEM Jun 15 '14 at 19:09
5

You are a new manager -- congratulations!

Good for you for asking for help with this. It's one of the hardest parts of being a manager.

This member of your team is, either unconsciously or consciously, challenging your authority. He is testing the limits. He may or may not realize it, but he is trying to see whether he can get you to break. We've all done that sort of testing, since our parents taught us to put on our own clothing. It may seem childish, but it's human. It happens all the time.

Authority, in business, is a job, just like knowing the best way to do some technical task is a job and persuading a customer to buy your product is a job. You have this job because someone in your company decided you have the judgement and wisdom to use authority wisely.

From your question it seems that you deserve this trust. You're not taking this personally. Well done! You need to deal with this situation politely and firmly. It's not about you, it's about the strength of your whole team.

First of all, ask for help from a fellow manager. Don't try to do this alone. You're a new manager, and this is the kind of hard challenge all managers get. But it's new managers that have the hardest time with it.

Go to your boss, or your mentor, or somebody in human resources. Say "I need your advice. Person X is engaged in testing my authority by 'spreading bad ideas about me' (use your words). This is undermining my ability to lead the team. What can I do to intervene to stop this behavior?" Your boss may be able to either help you intervene or give you a strategy for intervening.

Here's a suggestion for a conversation with this Person X. Take notes in a couple of incidents where he says things about you that test you, so you have his exact words.

Then, have a private conversation. Say something like this. "I have something to say, and I want you to listen until I am finished speaking. When you said 'whatever he said' in public, I understood you to be challenging my authority. When you challenge my authority in public, you don't just challenge me but you challenge the success of our whole team. That's bad for you, bad for me, and bad for us all. Please do not do this in future."

He is not going to smack his forehead and say, "oh, you are right! what was I thinking? I will not do this any more."

Instead, he's going to try to argue with you. Do not engage him in a discussion of what he said or his motives. He probably doesn't really understand them himself. Let him rant for a while. Just listen. Don't react. It is very hard to keep quiet when a person is saying the kinds of things he will say, but you still are very wise to keep quiet. Be like a duck in a rainstorm: let the water roll off you.

At the end of the conversation, say to him "thanks for hearing me out. I know you'll think about what I have said." Then decisively end the conversation.

Good luck. This isn't easy, but you can do it!

One other thing to keep in mind: nobody is indispensable. Strong teams are always more effective in the long run than superstar individuals.

2

If he was not like this to you before your promotion, then it is possible he is jealous and is deliberately trying to get you demoted so he can get promoted. This is a most dangerous situation and you took all the wrong moves by not immediately reacting to his put-downs. You cannot afford to ever let someone be dismissive of you in public when he works for you. Not even in a joking manner.

Good work is not just about technical competence. No one can afford to keep an employee with a bad attitude and that is what you have. Since you have an organizational problem too of being in charge without authority (in the future, do yourself a favor and don't accept a managment job withouth authority), you need to discuss how to handle with your boss.

But this is what I recoemmend. The person who is his actual official supervisor needs to sit down with him and HR in a meeting and tell him this behavior is unacceptable and that if it does not stop, he will be fired. This person is a cancer in the team and he needs to fix his attitude or be gone. What he is doing is harming you, it is harming the team reputation and it is harming him (Even if he succeeds in getting you demoted, the likelihood is that they would pick someone else becaue no one wants to have a known snake as a subordinate manager and it is likely part of why he wasn't chosen in the first place.)

1

Have you considered talking to his manager about his behavior and being unprofessional? While it is nice to have the intellectual win, broadcasting it regularly should be seen as childish and petty though I'd consider going through proper channels here. There could be various reactions to this as there may be harassment issues that may arise here if he continues to bully you as this could be seen that way.

I would also consider making sure you have relationships with your boss and your boss' boss so that your accomplishments are properly tracked and handled. This is where your boss and the one above that are in the loop of what you are getting done and how things are playing out.

  • Well, I am his direct manager, so in a way I should somehow address this, but I don't want to take it too formally as he is a really valuable asset to the company and the team. Ideally, I would like to try and handle this myself to show that I am also growing my people leadership / social skills... hope that makes sense. – DanAurora Jun 13 '14 at 8:22
  • Also note we do have a strong informal and joking culture at the company, so it can be quite likely that I come across as wishy washy if I try and escalate this as a problem. So, once again, I would like to try and solve this informally. – DanAurora Jun 13 '14 at 8:24
  • 1
    If you want to solve this informally, google "psychological aikido", you might find useful ideas there – greenfingers Jun 13 '14 at 8:32
0

This is a very troubling situation that you are facing. First, I think that you are displaying a lot of maturity and a great attitude (as described in your post,) which (I'll bet) is a major reason why you got your promotion.

It really sounds like there is (still?) a sense of competition between you your friend. It's hard to tell from you post, but it sounds like both of you started out on the same (or close to the same) level and then you received a promotion that he also wanted. It also is sounds like he has become very protective of his efforts and feels the need to point out the fact that his contributions helped projects to become successful. He may also feel that you received the lions share of the credit for the group's success and that the only way for him to get a head is to draw the credit and the spotlight (back) onto himself. Unfortunately for him, He's not making any friends by doing this. This kind of behavior is quite common and is one of the reasons that good managers are essential.

A good manager is not always the person that outperforms everyone else. A good manager can pull a group of people together, mitigate their negativity and get them all working together on a common goal. They are the glue that holds together a group of functional units and turns them into a larger, more functional, single unit. This skill is usual acquired after long and difficult struggles with situations just like the one you described. This is a great opportunity for you, but you must take action!

First, any other manager in you organization would see this other person as a problem. No matter how good he is, he is still trying to take credit away from another manager. I'm sure that you'll have a lot of sympathetic ears around. However, these ears are attached to wary defenders of the status quo, who are expecting you to deal with the situation and not allow this person to draw other workers into the belief that they too can improve their situation by being aggressive. They will want to see if you can calm the beast and bring him back under control.

Second, This is a great opportunity to reach out to other managers that are on you level and possibly a little above you. Ask for advice and schedule some lunch dates. Even after that negative chit-chat these people will probably be on you side, and will be more than happy to share experience and tips. Also, it is a good way to 'clear your name' and demonstrate that you are willing to face the problem. It should be very easy for you to reap the benefits of his alienating efforts.

Third, you must face him. What he is doing is very destructive and needs to be stopped. He needs to come to terms with the fact that you were promoted, and that his efforts did contribute to that fact. He also needs to realize that his approach to gaining credit is wrong and that he needs to trust that you will give credit where credit is due. Let him know that he is creating a dangerous situation for himself and that you are one of the few people that can actually help him to reconnect. Is is also obvious that he is hurting and perhaps feeling a bit betrayed by you and upper management. His expectations have been violated and trust needs to be rebuilt. A calm (but not patronizing) yet firm approach must be taken. Honestly, is sounds like you already have these character traits in abundance (based on your problem description.)

I don't think it was a mistake that your manager put you in charge of this situation and in charge of this person. Now, you just need to take some action. You need to reach out to other people in the organization and start communicating more. You also need to face you friend directly and try to defuse him. Trust yourself, take a more direct path, make you needs and expectation known, draw your team back together and exercise that management muscle. Hopefully, he will realize that you are still has friend and his best hope for future promotion. Otherwise, it may be time for him to consider other options.

-2

Your colleage's behaviour as you describe it should make your warning bells ring. It can have detrimental effects on the working climate in your team. Not only the managers can be influenced by this kind of behaviour.

If this behaviour comes up, there is most likely a conflict, and it should be resolved as soon as possible. First you should talk to him as already mentioned in a comment. Ask him why he was so aggressive/sarcastic against you. Ask him if he has a problem with you. Tell him that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable for you, especially because he seems to be doing this in the presence of other colleages (this seems to be the case, because of your example where he points at you).

Maybe you should as a second step talk to your boss and your colleage about this in a three-person meeting.

If this won't stop him from behaving like this, and the working climate in the team has worsened due to his behaviour, I would try to resolve it in a team meeting with your team and your boss. Tell them what happened and why this is not acceptable. Ask him to stop this.

If this won't work either, there is also the possibility to hire an external mediator.

Good luck.

  • 3
    Don't solve individual conflicts in a team meeting! – Kevin Jun 13 '14 at 8:41
  • If the team has been involved, and that seems to be the case as i mentioned, then the team can be included in the resolution of a problem. Also note that I wrote the first step is to talk to the colleage in question. – prockel Jun 13 '14 at 8:44
  • 1
    I'd second AjaxKevi - speak to the manager about it, then maybe a meeting with the colleague and manager, but in a team scenario this is not appropriate. – Reinstate Monica Jun 13 '14 at 8:58
  • @prockel He does not have a problem with the team he has a problem with a individual. Having a team meeting to solve a conflict between two persons does not seem like a good idea. Imagine if you had a conflict with someone and that person would drag his entire team in it. – Kevin Jun 13 '14 at 8:58
  • @Ajaxkevi Ok, I see your point. I edited my answer such that the second step is a talk with the boss and the colleage. And I added a prerequisite for making this a topic of a team-meeting: "and the working climate has worsened due to this behaviour". Maybe a was a bit too fast to answer... – prockel Jun 13 '14 at 9:13

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