Workplace Doctor: two-way communication can win over colleagues’ resentment

Workplace doctor Debbie Nicol helps an Abu Dhabi resident who has been promoted to middle management level but is struggling to secure the approval of colleagues.

I have just been promoted to a middle management position and I now manage a team of eight that were previously colleagues on the same level. Since taking on the new role, I have held a couple of meetings and found my previously friendly colleagues have transformed into a very hostile group that are totally resistant to my suggestions. In fact the meetings have been verging on unpleasant and I feel I will have trouble seeing my ideas come together. How can I win the support of my team who so far seem dead against any new initiatives I want to introduce? MT, Abu Dhabi

I agree your situation is one of the hardest and most draining to find yourself in, that being promoted over and above your colleagues. In light of that adversity, let me manage your expectations up front. Whatever is said now is not going to turn things around overnight. That’s the bad news, and even worse news awaits you (yes, I do mean worse). If your mindset doesn’t change from a perspective of name, blame and shame to jointly accepting responsibility, then things will never change for the better. I see two camps currently developing in the department, evidenced by words such as “they’ve transformed into a hostile group”, “they are totally resistant”, “my ideas” – can you see it too? Two camps in the one location is a very dangerous scenario.

So let’s start with Leadership 101. People don’t have to and simply won’t follow you just because you have a title. In other words, having a title does not entitle you to their respect – it must be earned, along with their trust too. Ask yourself “why do I willingly follow another”? With those reasons in hand, ask yourself again “how have I established a strong foundation for earning their support”, just as those people earned yours.

People are not stupid. They know the reality and watch the inner workings of an organisation. It is clear to them that you’ve not held that position before. So that is what could be described as “what is”. The associated “what can be” is where you need to do the hard work. To do this, firstly ask yourself:

• Am I clear about the priorities that are required under my new tenure?

• Do I have a picture of what success will look like under my management and how I expect to get there?

• Have I informed the team of the new priorities – that may have changed since the previous leader – and why things must change now? Have I shared my expectations of how the journey to the future must go?

That’s the business realignment handled – now how will you address the people side of leadership? Clearly the above will demonstrate you are in touch with your goals and requirements, yet they will be looking for a reciprocal understanding – are you clear on their expectations, their needs, their differing potentials and requirements? No one will work for you, or do your work and achieve your initiatives (as that is what their task really is) if title is more important than themselves. How are you demonstrating a genuine care and interest? Adults are babies in big bodies and respond very well with individualised and genuine responses. Here’s a few suggestions:

• Communication style

Examine your communication style. Just because you speak or email, doesn’t mean they’ll listen or read. Communication has the potential to connect two parties equally, when it shows respect, interest and has equal doses of questioning (which facilitates understanding) and stating. Ensure the communication channels are worthy of their time being invested. Gain clarity of understanding at every opportunity.

• Team spirit and involvement

Involvement comes when you seek it on a continued basis. In a new position your involvement with your team will be from a different perspective. Until you open up about that, and seek to include them at all times while also demonstrating application of their involvement.

• Values clarification

Be clear on what matters most to you about the way team members treat each other, including yourself. Highlight success with examples of behaviour and walk the talk at all times.

Doctor’s prescription

Take a connection pill daily for the next 12 months. Without genuine connection, you’ll simply be a pawn in their game.

Debbie Nicol, the managing director of Dubai-based business en motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Email her at for the Workplace Doctor’s advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague

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Published: May 6, 2014 04:00 AM


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