When your employees don’t respect you

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR

Oh, for a return to the good old days, when employees knew their place and didn’t expect to be heard. Not like today, when a worker with an opinion may have the nerve to share it. Why, he might even have the audacity to tell you that your management skills could stand some improvement! Outrageous.

Nevertheless, once confronted, you’ll need to respond. Here’s how.

First things first

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Taking the emotion out of the situation, is there any truth to the criticism? Has your employee given good examples to back up her claims? Have others maybe said the same things about you in the past?

For example, let’s say your employee is complaining that you aren’t supportive. As evidence, he points out how you wouldn’t authorize payment for the project management class he wanted to take, even though his job involves tons of project management, and he’s never received formal instruction and could benefit from it.

Or perhaps your employee is thinking more about a different type of support, and he mentions how when Manager XYZ in the _____ department insulted him publicly at the last strategy meeting you were silent, even though you outrank Manager XYZ, and her insults were wholly unfounded.

Well, what do you have to say for yourself, exactly? Is your employee wrong? Has he misread the situation? Or are you, in fact, dismissive of his career aspirations and his dignity?

Hmmm …

The plain truth

If an honest assessment of your employee’s claims reveals some bad thinking on his or her part, then honestly and gently let your employee know where and why you disagree. Perhaps your manager put the kibosh on educational expenditures or perhaps you didn’t perceive Manager XYZ as being insulting. The point is, you really do value your employee’s personhood and his career goals. (Although perhaps you’ll need to be better about demonstrating that in the future.)

However, if an honest assessment reveals that you have slacked a bit in this area, well, if you want to be a good boss, you’ll need to apologize and do better.

Look, I know you’re the boss, but this is a relationship, and you can’t rank your way into a good relationship. You have to earn it by being trustworthy, honest, and respectful. So …

Give the ego a rest

It’s a rare individual who likes criticism, and most managers aren’t exactly known for their small egos.

Still, if you want to improve your skills, you’ll need to listen and resolve to not take the criticism too personally. The truth is, your employee didn’t come to you to make you feel bad about who you are; she just needs a better manager and is hoping you’ll care enough to comply. So, accept what you’re being told in the spirit in which it’s being given.

Make your subordinate your accountability partner

Chances are, if something about you is driving your employee nuts, it’s a trait you didn’t acquire yesterday but is more likely a long-time habit. And, again, if you really want to be a better manager, you’ll need to change those habits.

Bring your employee into the loop. For example, maybe your employee is complaining that you never have time for him, or that you display multiple signs of not paying attention (looking at your watch, reviewing your email messages, answering your phone, etc.) whenever you do make time.

Give your employee permission to call the behavior out (“Hey boss, that’s the third time you’ve glanced at your watch. Should we reschedule?”) without holding it against him and by redirecting when necessary. (“I did? My apologies. I’m a little distracted about ABC, but let me put that aside now. Carry on please.”)

In a recent Gallup poll, nearly 50% of workers reported being uninspired by their managers. If you don’t want to be that manager, you’ll have to mindfully cultivate your skills so as to elicit the best performance from your employees. Learning to handle feedback from your staff is a great first step.

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