Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about rudeness: We have a very new person who I have to supervise, She is extremely aggressive, yet ignorant regarding her job. The problem is she is becoming quite resentful toward me. I admit she annoys me very much and at times I am short with her.
Hello, I love your column because work can be so crazy and you make a lot of sense. My question is about meetings that are my job to chair. We have a very new person who I have to supervise, She is extremely aggressive, yet ignorant regarding her job. She is eager to make a contribution right away.She started off on her first day with a list of complaints and tried to rewrite her job description. She either does not understand or chooses to ignore most of my instruction. I don’t fault her for being eager but I can’t let her break rules that everyone else has to follow.I also have to stop her from jumping head first into projects that I can see will fail.
The problem is she is becoming quite resentful toward me. I admit she annoys me very much and at times I am short with her. I try to be professional but she is so aggressive that she prompts me to have to talk over her at meetings and ignore dumb suggestions she makes. She now seems bent on challenging me at meetings and acting resentful in general.I am beginning to think she is mentally ill not because she is challenging me but because she is so off the wall. For example, she sat at today’s meeting and made this comment, “In my experience, I have found that…” she continued to make a silly suggestion and she has no experience! She also offered to work 12 hours a day on a project that does not require that kind of time. I’m at a loss on how to salvage this relationship. I can recommend that she not be hired at the end of her probation but my boss would surely count it against me for not solving the whole problem. It is her aggressive manner that I really detest not her inexperience. Any suggestions?
Signed, Frustrated Supervisor
Dear Frustrated Supervisor:
There seems to be a lot going on with this situation–and all of it has potential for contention. I can certainly understand your perspective, if the employee is not just interested and eager but almost taking over and acting as though she is there to save the business. On the other hand I can imagine that she might feel frustrated too if she thinks she’s showing initiative but it isn’t appreciated. She will especially feel resistant to you if she sees you as standing between her and the recognition she wants and thinks she deserves. In addition, in your question you use some phrases (perhaps inadvertently) that sound as though there is really nothing she could do that you would like very much.
Honestly, it sounds as though you are reacting to her as if she is a coworker you don’t care for, rather than as a supervisor you are training, motivating, guiding, counseling, correcting, reminding and controlling. As usual, the key to at least beginning to improve the situation is with open communication and honesty and with clear direction as well as helpful guidance. That could have helped even more had it happened the very first time she said or did something inappropriately aggressive.Consider this as you decide what to do about it:
1. Talk to your manager before you do anything else and see if you will have his support. Ask him his view of your work with her so far and his view of her work. Make sure you’re thinking alike about this, or at least that he is not opposing your actions.
2. Remember that if she is problematic to you now (whether she or you are right or wrong) it will be much worse after her probationary period is over. So, develop your reasoning now to enlist the support of your manager so that he is more likely to see your viewpoint if a tough decision must be made. The probationary time is the time when the employer can decide if the performance and behavior of the employee is acceptable. It isn’t just a training time it is a testing time. However, the supervisor should put as much effort into training as testing. AND, the employee should know, every step of the way, if she is doing well or not.
3. There are few questions for you to consider about this, in a self-ask and answer format. These will help you discuss the matter with the employee and also with your own manager.*What is the link between what she is doing and the work of your organization? You have probably seen this asked many times in response to questions on this site! Be able to show what is the problem with what she is doing.*Do her actions distract her from the tasks of her job description? If so, what work hasn’t been done or hasn’t been done to the quality or quantity required? *Does she neglect to learn the knowledge and skills needed because of her focus on doing something differently? *Do her actions require you to spend an excessive amount of time on topics that are not significant for the work needing to be done? *Do other employees avoid her or not respond well to her, so it has a negative effect on the team? *Do her actions create contention that distracts people, lowers morale, effects productivity, takes up time to smooth over and explain? The bottom line is, “What does it matter that she is acting this way?” When you can answer that clearly, you know you at least have something better to say that just that you don’t like it.*Have you told her that her approach is not effective for a newly hired person? Have you told her what she should be doing instead of the things she is doing? (Those are usually where supervisors have to say,”No, I haven’t said anything directly.”) You must do that to show that you have done your part.When it comes to instructions you have given her, have you made an effort to find out if she DOES understand them before she even starts a task or do you wait until she has made errors and then judge that she has purposely ignored your instructions? You must be able to show that she clearly understood what she was to do before she started a task.You can see that the supervisory role is vital for situations like these.
4. Do you have any probationary evaluation times, when you could let her know how she is doing? Even if you haven’t talked to her before, you could say something now. Be comfortable with her and not angry sounding. Tell her it could be that she simply had an incorrect perception of what her role was to be during this learning time. Then, give a couple of examples of her actions and what she should have done instead. For example, instead of producing a list of suggestions and trying to rewrite her job description, she should have been focused on learning her job.You can tell her that in order to have influence she has to establish her credibility. She can do that best by listening and learning, not by critiquing an organization she hasn’t been part of. That is just good manners for a new employee.
I was in a similar situation in which a new employee came to work on the second day with a redesign for a form. He was ignorant of what the form was used for and was mostly trying to impress everyone with his willingness to do good work. I asked him to meet me outside where we could talk in private and I said, in a confidential tone,”Roger, your main task now is to learn how to do your job well and to learn to fit into this organization. There is nothing you will encounter at this stage that you have enough knowledge about to give you credibility for suggesting change. After a few months we might talk about some of those things, but not now. Focus on the tasks you’re assigned and if you have free time, read your employee manual or get to know people, but don’t spend it creating work for yourself.Take it slow and build a foundation rather than being gung-ho without anything to base it on. I’m suggesting it because I want you to do well. But I’m directing it too, because my job as your supervisor is to make sure you do well and that you don’t create problems for yourself, for others or for me. Take this list of ideas back and I’ll let you know if I want to consider them when you have more knowledge about the job.”
He was responsive to that, although he felt a bit put down. But, he did focus on his work and things turned out fine. He never submitted the list again and I never mentioned it again, because the ideas had no value in our organization. That is a good approach for you to take. Be friendly but adamant. It’s OK for you to tell her that she is a new employee who has yet to establish herself and she should only focus on the work she is learning to do. If she has creative ideas, she can keep a record of those and perhaps present them later, but not now.
5. There is a fine line between encouraging new employees to be enthusiastic and letting them disrupt others with their enthusiasms. It sounds as though she has been allowed to overstep her position many times, so she will probably be a bit taken aback. Just stick with your approach of friendly but firm control until she has learned her job well enough that you can let her create her own work now and then.6. I’m going to take you at your word that you are behaving appropriately toward her. But it concerns me to read that you say you “talk over her” at meetings. What example does that set? I’m not meaning to be harsh, but really, if she has repeatedly been inappropriate at meetings, what have you done about it? It should only happen once, then you should be talking to her before the meeting.Or, let her peers be the ones to help her learn. If she makes suggestions that are silly from your viewpoint, toss it out to coworkers:”What are your thoughts?” You may find that don’t consider them as silly as you do! Or they may, and they will help you by letting her know they want to move on. 7. Use this as a learning time for you as well. It is possible to effectively supervise someone who you don’t care for personally very much. But, you need to establish that relationship early and maintain it.Communicate with her a lot. Don’t let a barrier build up between the two of you. Help her succeed by commending the work she does that IS part of her job. Stop her when you see she is interfering in the work of others or when she is taking on too much. Remind her that her enthusiasm is valued but her actions aren’t, if they take her focus away from her primary tasks. As I said, it sounds as though there are many issues involved in your situation. But, I think most of them can be resolved more easily if you make sure you fulfill your supervisory role rather than only observing and being frustrated but not actively following through. It may be she should not last until the end of the probationary period. Maybe she should. Whatever you do you will need the help and support of HR and your own manager, so be working with them all the way.Best wishes with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.
Tina Lewis Rowe