How Do I Get More Respect, Nicely?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about intrusive subordinate: he barely knocks, then walks in and starts talking about something

I am a supervisor at work but I only supervise one worker. We once saw each other outside of the workplace and he introduced me as his ‘coworker’. I was ok with that, but now there are some other little things that are bothering me. He walks into my office whenever he wants and just starts talking, so that I have to drop everything and talk to him, answer his questions, discuss something, etc.Even when I shut my door, he barely knocks, then walks in and starts talking about something. It’s always project-related, almost, but today I had shut my door, and was attempting to eat a quiet lunch at my desk, when he just opened the door and walked in and had questions about the project. Now I have finally turned back to my now-cold lunch to eat, and I’m utterly frustrated. I don’t want to make the workplace awkward. How do I address this issue?

Signed, Utterly Frustrated

Dear Utterly Frustrated:

Scan just a few of the thousands of Q&As in our Archives to realize how fortunate you are to have a coworker who consults and converses with you about projects. Your frustration apparently has resulted from failure to talk about talk; talk about what, when, where and why of talk about business. You are not alone. Most of us operate with unspoken assumptions about talk. So you have expectations about how the individual you supervise should think of you; ranging from how he introduces you and to when and how often he comes to you and how he should or shouldn’t come into your office.You might not like my advice because it will challenge some of the unspoken assumptions you have about your supervisor-supervisee relationship. Yet I trust that you will be open to them.

I have studied and coached superior-subordinate relationships for years and what I advise is based on that: · “Utterly frustrated” both in language and content are over-reactions to the situation you describe. · You are better to think of your self as a coworker than as a supervisor of one individual. Your relationship will be stronger if you encourage rather than inwardly resent being introduced as a coworker. Have a habit of adding something commendable about each other when making introductions. Put behind you the need for getting respect nicely. If you show respect, respect will come your way.

· You need to clarify for your self what is your authority and responsibility as a supervisor. Are you to approve/disapprove of what this individual does? Are you to discipline him; give him warnings and recommend if he should be fired or promoted? Are you expected to do performance review?

· Collaboratively spelling out processes and goals of projects and posting their progress could lessen and make more effective what and when they should be reviewed and evaluated. Big projects might benefit from a critical path PERT diagram.

· Think of you and this one you supervise as a team; a team that develops a habit of a regular time for skull sessions, as a team that huddles as needed, and as a team that has interim summaries of where you are, especially before you part.

· Take time out to talk about talk—Set forth do and don’t communication rules about what you expect and want; simple rules about calling each other by first names and introducing each other as coworkers. Rules about please and thank you versus orders. Rules about tone and volume of voice. Rules about where and when to speak about what. Rules about where credit is given to what is achieved. Rules about frustration and/or complaints about how things are going between you two. Rules about signing off on what is done. Most of all you two need to think big; bigger than how you relate on one another as important as that is. The success of your two-person unit hinges on how you interact with your internal and external customers. Right? If so, that entails working as a team within the larger units of your organization. This is encapsulated in my signature benediction to this note: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Let me know if you can apply any of these thoughts to your current frustration and future working relationship.

William Gorden