Avoid extremes, seek common ground
Q: In the family business where I work, the owner and his son have very different perspectives. The owner is always looking for growth opportunities, while “Stan” tends to focus on maintaining the status quo. Although I have good relationships with both of them, the owner and I tend to think more alike.
Whenever I propose changes that could help the business, Stan always finds a reason to object. During these conversations, I am torn between giving in and pleasing Stan or moving forward and making progress. I know that his dad will support my ideas, but I don’t want to alienate Stan by going over his head.
I love my job and hope to stay with this company for a long time, so I need some advice on managing this situation. What would you suggest?
A: By defining your options as “giving in” versus “moving forward,” I believe you are creating a false choice. Focusing only on these two extremes will inevitably create frustration, resentment and unproductive arguments. Instead, you should consider finding a middle path that involves having collaborative discussions with Stan.
Because you and Stan seem to have complementary thinking styles, considering both perspectives will actually produce better results. Your focus on the future will contribute to long-term success, while Stan’s concern for immediate needs will help to keep operations running smoothly. If the two of you can stop viewing this difference as a conflict and start seeing it as two halves of a whole, the business will benefit greatly.
From a career perspective, you should also remember that Stan will probably replace his dad at some future date. Although you may be colleagues now, eventually he’ll be the boss. An adversarial relationship could bring your career to a sudden end, so learning to collaborate would definitely be in your self-interest.
Q: One of my co-workers frequently emails me to share her observations about my emotional state. For example, she might say, “You’re very quiet today. Are you alright?” or, “You seem agitated. If you need to vent, I’m here.” This has been going on for almost five years.
I always respond that I’m fine and have no problems, so you would think she might quit bugging me. But no, she keeps right on sending these irritating messages. How can I put an end to this?
A: Even though your response to these unwanted queries has been minimal, it’s apparently sufficient to reinforce the behavior. So if you want this annoyingly compassionate colleague to quit cataloging your emotions, you must stop replying to her messages. If you ignore them, eventually they will cease.
The other alternative, of course, is to directly tell her that you dislike receiving repeated inquiries about your well-being. But since she is obviously a sensitive soul, that would only hurt her feelings and create workplace discord. If she intends these messages to be friendly and caring, learning that they seem nosy and intrusive could come as quite a shock.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”