I recently started a new job where I manage a department of five people. One person on my team applied for my role but didn’t get it — and I’m getting the sense that he and the rest of the team resent me for it. How do I smooth things over and gain their respect?
Walking into a new team can be tricky even when you’re welcomed without reservation. It’s particularly tough when some team members seem not to want you there! Here are five keys to handling it with poise — and hopefully winning over your team in the process.
1. Don’t let the situation make you insecure or defensive. It can be tough to maintain your equilibrium when the team you’re charged with leading seems to be viewing you with skepticism, but don’t let it rattle you. Remember that you were hired for a reason, and your employer believes you’re the person best able to lead this team — if you start to lose your confidence in that, your team is likely to pick up on it.
2. Reach out to each staff member individually and build relationships with each of them. It’s easy to have resentment against a faceless “new manager” who you don’t yet know or who isolates herself in her office. It’s harder to keep up the resentment against someone who’s warm, open and genuinely interested in getting to know you and help make your work life easier — so make sure you’re the latter.
3. Consider addressing it directly. Consider reaching out to the staff member who had applied for your role to talk about what his professional aspirations are and how you might help him reach them. For instance, you might offer to help him create a professional growth plan so that he’s a stronger candidate for a promotion in the future.
4. Nip any toxic behavior in the bud. Sometimes in this situation, managers are more indulgent of problematic behavior because they feel sympathetic or even slightly guilty for getting the job that one of their team members wanted. But if you let inappropriate behavior — like hostility or passive aggression — fester, it can become a poison.
That means that you need to be very clear with people when their behavior doesn’t meet your standards, and you need to be willing to set and enforce consequences if it doesn’t change. For example, if someone makes a snide comment about decisions you’re making, you’d want to talk with the person privately immediately afterwards.
You might calmly say something like, “I’d be glad to explain the thinking behind my decisions, but I’m getting the sense that you’re skeptical of how I’m making decisions in general. What’s going on?” Listen with an open mind, but explain that you expect any disagreements to be raised privately and respectfully — just as you’ll do yourself.
Then, if it happens again, you’d address it with additional gravity. For example, at that stage you might say, “Jane, we’ve talked about this previously and it’s continuing to happen. I value your work, but I need someone in your role who will be a positive presence on the team, raise concerns in a professional manner and not cause tension. Are you able to do that?” (And of course, if problems continue after that, you need to address it as you would any other serious performance problem.)
5. Make sure you’re managing really well. Throughout all of this, it’s essential that you be managing well — setting clear goals and expectations, delegating work effectively, giving useful feedback, and so forth. That should always be your goal, of course, but it’s especially important when you’re the new leader of a wary team.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on careers, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of “How To Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager” and “Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results,” and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, including hiring and firing.