Can you believe that guy? Who does he think he is? So rude. So entitled. Such a motormouth. He drives me crazy!
If you ever think these kinds of things about someone who reports to you, chances are you dread dealing with him.
“Anyone who leads people comes across it at some point in their career,” said Eric Pliner, CEO of leadership advisory firm YSC Consulting.
But that doesn’t make it any easier.
It’s your job as a leader to figure out how to motivate and manage everyone on your team, regardless of your personal feelings.
“Seasoned managers know you can’t just avoid your way out of the problem,” said leadership coach Kristi Hedges, founder of The Hedges Company, a coaching firm.
Nor can you pretend that everything is fine and no one will know. The person you don’t like will sense your animosity, and the rest of your team will too.
“If you don’t own that you dislike someone, it’s going to come out in other ways,” said Lolly Daskal, founder of consulting firm Lead From Within and author of “The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness.”
She once coached a CEO who routinely yelled at the one person he disliked in team meetings. But when Daskal later told him what he had said and how he said it, he denied it.
Be honest about what’s triggering you
“Owning” that you dislike a direct report doesn’t mean expressing your feelings to that person or to anyone else on your team. That would be a mistake.
“You have to know where to rant. Don’t talk with the CFO about the CMO, because the CFO will think, if he talks to me about her, what is he saying about me?” Daskal said.
If you need a sounding board, find a trusted person outside the company. Or, Pliner suggested, talk to a trusted peer at the company who doesn’t work closely with your team but has seen you interact with the person irking you and can offer some perspective.
Most importantly, however, you need to figure out why that team member pushes your buttons so much, especially if others aren’t responding as negatively to him as you are.
Maybe he does things that you never let yourself do because you always played by the rules, and you resent that he doesn’t and gets away with it. Or maybe he makes you feel insecure about your job.
“We react most strongly to that which we hide or dislike about ourselves,” Hedges said. “Name it and understand it so you can take some of the energy out of the situation.”
To make the relationship work, keep in mind that “you don’t have to like all your employees and they don’t have to like you. But you do have to demonstrate genuine respect,” Pliner said.
That respect is borne from a fundamental belief that someone has something valuable to contribute.
So focus on what that person contributes.
And sit down with him to establish very clear expectations of what you both need to work well together. Ask him what he needs from you to succeed. Then tell him what you need and expect from him, Pliner said.
When it comes to giving reviews, check how you’ve done them with people you like and make sure you’re following the same approach with the person you dislike, Hedges said.
And if it helps, you might also confidentially check with a leader in HR, who can offer a helpful perspective and other tools to help you keep the relationship on track.
Realize you have to change
As the leader, the onus is on you to ensure a functioning relationship with every member of your team.
“A manager can’t say, ‘This person makes my life hell.’ You have to deal with them on a professional basis and leave your personal conflicts at the door,” said LaToi Mayo, a partner in the employment law firm Littler Mendelson. “You’re responsible for setting the professional tone.”
Daskal worked with one client who was driven mad by a direct report who talked incessantly. So she recommended he change his approach. Now he’ll interrupt the employee and say, “That’s a brilliant idea. Can I ask a question?”
By paying the employee a compliment, that stops her in her tracks and opens the door to a dialogue, she said.
Hedges also recommends getting curious about the people who make you crazy. Ask them about their lives. It may shed light on their behaviors or attitudes that set you off.
You may also find “a nugget of commonality” with them, Hedges said. “And that may soften your viewpoint.”