Q. One of my employees refuses to accept me as his supervisor. Ever since I was transferred into his department, "Jack" has been extremely rude. He argues with me about everything and talks about how much he misses his former boss. He frequently makes these comments in front of other people, including my manager.
I need to let Jack know that his disrespectful attitude is completely unacceptable, but I don't want to make the situation worse. What's the best way to deal with such a hostile employee?
A. Jack's reaction to your arrival is certainly inappropriate, so your desire to reprimand him is understandable. Nevertheless, if your goal is to improve the relationship, a disciplinary talk may not be the best first step. Instead, acknowledge that this change has apparently been tough, then see if you can find out what's bothering him.
For example: "Jack, I know you haven't been very happy since your former manager left, and I'm sorry this change has been difficult. But even though it may be an adjustment, you and I still need to develop a cooperative, productive working relationship. Can you tell me what has been stressful about this for you?"
If Jack shares the reasons for his unhappiness, perhaps you can take steps to improve the situation. But if he refuses to open up, calmly make it clear that you aren't asking him to change his feelings, but you do expect him to change his behavior.
Q. The co-worker in the next cubicle is driving me crazy. "Hannah" talks to herself constantly about whatever project she is working on at the moment. This running commentary is so distracting that I can hardly hear myself think. Hannah and I have a good working relationship, so I don't want to offend her. How can I tactfully bring up this subject?
A. While some people need quiet to concentrate, others work best when they can think out loud. Like most ingrained personality traits, this innate difference in cognitive style is virtually impossible to change. Therefore, you must first understand that Hannah isn't trying to be irritating. She is simply being herself.
The key to success in discussing this issue is to avoid sounding irritated or critical. Just describe what you have observed, then suggest developing a plan to accommodate your differences.
For example: "Hannah, I've noticed that you and I seem to have opposite work styles. When I have a project to complete, I need to focus on it quietly. But I believe you find it helpful to think out loud. Because our desks are so close together, I sometimes find it hard to concentrate when I hear you talking. Do you think we could find a way to compromise on this?"
If Hannah receives your message well, you can then explore mutually agreeable strategies for resolving this issue. Remember, though, that those who deliver feedback often get some in return. So you must also be open to any suggestions Hannah may have for you.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics."