Q: I’m quite new in my organization and was promoted over someone who’s been here a lot longer. She’s not happy but does not report to me — how do I handle it?
A: Take the high ground, but also remember that you were promoted for a reason.
The inner game
Let yourself celebrate your advancement; if annoyance with your colleague is tainting your happiness, let it go. Even more, if you’re feeling any guilt that you’re the one with the good news, recognize that it is not appropriate — you earned your opportunity.
That said, some compassion for her situation will help you navigate. Take some deep breaths, relax and envision life from her perspective. Use anything you know about her to help you, and even imagine other aspects to help get inside her skin. Can you experience her disappointment and frustration? If you were her, how would you feel? How would you want to be treated?
Now think about how she is behaving. If she’s not happy but is behaving professionally, then it’s a matter of getting over this bump and forging a quality business relationship with her, if that’s what you want. If she is acting out in some way, then you need to take action.
Finally, envision the ideal outcome. This will be based on the amount of interaction your teams have. If it’s remote, then you’ll probably have a different goal than if your teams collaborate closely day to day.
The outer game
Based on her behavior and your goals, put together a communication plan. If there are no real issues but you just want to be open and forge a good relationship, it’s fairly easy. Consider getting together for coffee or catching her in some other informal setting to let her know that:
• You recognize she was also a candidate for your new role and is undoubtedly disappointed.
• You have high regard for her and look forward to working together.
It’s much trickier if she is behaving unprofessionally in some way. At some level, that’s her boss’ situation to manage, especially if her disappointment is translating into diminished performance. However, if she is bad-mouthing you with others, say, it crosses into your domain to address.
In this case, you may want to be a bit more formal and ask her to meet with you. Have some examples ready that you want to ask her about. For example, you might say something like, “I understand that you were suggesting in a meeting that I’m not really qualified for my position. What’s that about?” She may be abashed by being called on her behavior directly, and it may be enough to stop her. However, she may stand by her comments. In that case, it’s important that you be clear about your expectations — that her disparaging comments stop, and if they don’t, you may need to escalate your response.
As you work through managing this situation, also involve your boss, who may have other insights on the best strategies for this particular individual.
The last word
Part of being a leader is standing up for yourself; do your best work and stand your ground.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at liz@ deliverchange.com.