17 January 2014

Empathy key to dealing with difficult bosses and difficult staff

Corporate life often feels like being in a sandwich, with challenges dealing with supervisors and subordinates alike. I asked “CT”*, a Senior HR practitioner who has more than 20 years’ experience both in the private and public sector, for some advice on dealing with difficulties on both sides.

“One of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given is ‘never fear man – only fear God’. If you have a difficult boss, it may be better to address the issue with him or her and ask to have an honest conversation about the areas where you have felt uncomfortable. This should be done without emotion or personal comments,” she said.

CT also noted that the fault may not be with the boss, or that there may be room for improvement on both sides. “You do have to be prepared for the boss to share that he or she finds you difficult or that you have specific behaviours that he or she finds annoying – so the change may need to be from you and not in the boss,” she said.

To put yourself in the shoes of your boss, what about challenges with junior staff, then?

“It requires patience and the willingness to try to understand the reason behind the behaviour on your part,” CT advised. “Look at the bigger picture – is the officer invaluable in other ways, is this behaviour something which is deliberate, or an expression of his or her personality?”

CT spoke of staff who are chronically late, for example. “I’ve had staff who could only work late into the night and did their best work at those times. They would deliver their work on time, and it would be excellent work. But this made them unable to wake up in the mornings, making them late for work,” she shared.

“Given that this officer was still performing well, I accepted that his work hours were just a little different from the norm. I would not ‘sweat the small stuff’. If this makes other employees jealous, I would make it known to all that this is a special circumstance, given that this employee turned in good work and delivered results, but works at different hours.

*Not her real name

*CT is available for private consultations