How to Deal

New Managers Must Work to Establish Credibility

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By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, June 12, 2008; 12:00 AM

I work for a small company with under 20 employees. I am a young woman (under 30), however I am a professional and I share an assistant with a more senior employee. I consistently have a hard time asserting myself with my assistant and other support staff. I want to be friendly and get along but I feel like the staff uses that as an opening to disregard me when I do tell them to do something or disagree with their suggestions. How can I balance being friendly with maintaining some authority?

This is a challenge that many managers, regardless of their age and sex, often confront. But I agree that the challenge can be more intense for young women. It is a mistake to conceptualize the problem simply as an imbalance between congeniality and authority, however. Friendliness by itself does not engender insubordination.

The root cause of your situation is not that you are friendly, but rather that you have not yet won the respect of your company's support staff. In any job, but especially a supervisory role, it is important to focus the first part of your tenure on establishing your credibility as a professional. During this time, you should concentrate more on observing and learning from the social interactions of your workplace rather than initiating them. By all means, learn people's names; smile; say, "good morning"; remember birthdays; be pleasant. But tone down the self-disclosure, jokes and general chit-chat.

The greatest managers understand that the trust and respect of employees is not commanded through a display of authority, but rather painstakingly accumulated through a long series of interactions. They also know, as you intuit, that there is immense power in displaying humanity. Until you can confidently say that your staff respects you as a professional, however, you do not have the luxury of making friends.

Gearing your workplace communications more toward polite business interactions rather than socialization will help you to establish a more serious profile with staff and supervisors alike. You will sense when it is okay to start opening up.

Join Lily Garcia on Tuesday, June 24 at 11 a.m. ET for How to Deal Live.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for more than 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail HRadvice@washington.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.


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