Time to stop dreading... managing different people

Manage a large enough team and you’ll quickly discover that you get on with some people easily, while others…. eh, not so much.

This can feel really uncomfortable, especially if you think you aren’t being fair to the people you don’t get on with. Maybe one of them even accuses you of ‘liking them less.’

There are certainly ways of mismanaging this situation, but you cannot escape the reality of life: we get on better with some people and not others.

So it’s all about your approach to the situation – and the actions you take – that make the difference.

If you have no connection, find a connection – be insatiably curious and you’ll level up your relationship.

It was Abraham Lincoln that said: “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”

So if there’s friction, lean in. Be curious. Ask questions. The more you find out about someone, the more likely you are to find common ground.

And what, after all, is the difference between the people you get on with and the people you don’t than how much common ground you share?

If you feel bad for treating someone differently first check if you really are treating them differently – or whether you are still treating them fairly.

Everyone is different. Sometimes the reason we get along with some people in our team better than others is because they are genuinely easier to manage.

If you feel like you’re constantly on one person’s case, of course you will wonder if you’re being overly harsh on them.

It’s worth reframing the question: is your treatment of them fair? Would you treat everyone the same, if they were showing the same behaviour?

If so, you are correctly tackling the behaviour, not the person.

Focus on communication and put all your efforts into being clear: oftentimes this is the source of friction.

Isn’t it funny that two people can talk to each other and yet feel like they’re speaking different languages?

This often describes our most difficult managerial relationships. You think you’ve been clear about a deadline; the date passes and nothing is done.

You need to start again when it comes to communication. Think about the way you are saying things and don’t soften your language. Aim for crystal-clear clarity.

If you naturally soften your language, tell the person that you think communication is an issue and that you will be trying to be ultra-clear – this makes it easier for you to make the change.

Also, get into the habit of repeating back to people what you think they said – and getting your direct reports to do the same.

When your communication improves and you both meet each other’s expectations, trust is built and the relationship gets better.

Re-interpret your ‘good’ relationships – the factors that go into great relationships outside work are very different to those at work.

Do you judge relationships at work on the same criteria as you judge them outside work?

You may think you don’t, but it’s very easy to be blindsided by this bias.

Maybe it’s the way they feel. How effortless interactions are. Whether there are awkward silences. Whether you have the same values. How funny you find the other person.

Think you’re guilty? Time to re-interpret your ‘good’ relationships in a new context.

When judged on new criteria, you may find these relationships aren’t as great as you think they are.

But on what criteria should you judge workplace relationships?

The factors that go into good workplace relationships are objective – you can nurture them with anyone.

Trust, respect, aligned expectations, clarity of communication, empathy and collaboration. These are some of the most important factors for workplace relationships.

The great thing about these factors is that there are tools and techniques you can use to develop all of them with anyone – even people that you don’t normally gel with.

Aligned expectations? Have more one-to-ones and repeat back to each other what you think the other person said.

Empathy? Ask more questions and be insatiably curious so that you learn more about the human behind your direct report.

When looking at relationships with your team, break everything down to two things – actions and behaviours.

Always break the characteristics above into actions and behaviours. Why? Because these can be taught.

If you really trust one person to get the job done and not another, what behaviours and actions cause you to feel this way?

Does the one you trust regularly report their weekly outputs without being asked? Do they get into the office on time and tell you promptly if they will be late?

When you understand the underlying behaviours that underpin good workplace relationships, you can turn the dial on the ‘not-so-great’ relationships by setting standards and holding people accountable.

Have you stopped dreading managing different people? Move onto our next article in the series, looking at how you can stop dreading holding people accountable at work.