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Your Work Coach: Supervisor must regain workplace authority

QUESTION: Ever since I was promoted, one of my former co-workers has refused to acknowledge that I am now her supervisor. Because she is friendly with my boss, “Anna” takes all her questions and concerns to him instead of me. This power struggle has been going on for two years.

I’m so disgusted with Anna that I have a hard time controlling my temper. I know that I’m letting her push my buttons, but I don’t want to just “roll over” and accept her backstabbing ways. If I change my attitude toward her, I’m afraid she will feel that she has won this battle. At the same time, I’m acutely aware that my inability to work with Anna has cast me in an unfavorable light with management. How do I solve this problem?

ANSWER: Sadly, you have allowed Anna to engage you in a self-destructive game.

By participating in this childish schoolyard squabble, you have completely abdicated your leadership role and lost credibility with management. To recover, you must take three steps.

First, remove words like “battle” from your mental vocabulary. This is not a war, and Anna is not your enemy. She is merely a difficult employee. As her manager, your job is to help her be successful, no matter how annoying she is. Next, ask your boss to put you back in the supervisory loop. For example: “I would like to improve my relationship with Anna, but she usually takes her concerns directly to you. If you could refer her back to me about work issues, that would give me a chance to be a better supervisor.” Finally, having shifted your own mindset, invite your adversary to do the same: “Anna, the tension in our relationship really hurts the whole department, so I’d like to see if we can put this conflict behind us and learn to work together. As your supervisor, what can I do to be more helpful to you?”

Anna will not magically transform into a new person overnight, but if you consistently act like a mature manager, things should gradually improve.

Just remember that your attitude is the only aspect of this situation over which you have complete control.

QUESTION: I recently accepted a position in an organization that is largely African-American. I will be one of only a few Caucasian employees. I’m looking forward to my new job, but I wonder if the workplace culture will be different. Do you have any suggestions for making this transition?

ANSWER: Every organization has its own unique culture, so just approach this job change as you would any other. Be alert for norms or practices that differ from your previous experience, but don’t assume that they are racially based.Schedule time with your new boss to clarify goals, priorities and expectations.

Get to know your colleagues, and avoid office cliques or department rivalries.

As you settle into this role, your awareness of racial differences is likely to fade into the background.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.” Send questions to www.yourofficecoach.com.

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