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When Your Team Member Sees You As A Threat

Conflict solving
Internal Communication
Leadership
Health / Stress / Burn-Out

7 December, 2019

The mentor talks about the process he used to gain the trust and respect of a team member who saw him as a direct threat.

Problem

A while ago, I joined a company and was given one direct report. He saw me as a direct threat to what he was doing because before I started working there, he reported directly to the my manager and took complete ownership over the perimeter. Me being there meant that he had to have his work reviewed by me and he had grown used to being autonomous. In addition, because I don't code he didn't respect me at all. This meant that initially, he was passive aggressive towards me.

Actions taken

I had been warned that this was likely to happen when I was hired for the role. One of the problems the company was facing was a lack of rigor due to everyone doing everything. Before I started working there, people were just doing things really quickly and pushing them to production, resulting in things failing. I was brought in to take responsibility, so they could ensure the designs were really good. In addition, the my manager no longer had time to manage the teammate, so they needed someone to help. Convincing the teammate to trust me wasn't easy. It required a lot of time, effort, understanding, and discussion. I quickly realized that I wouldn't be able to prove myself as an architect to the other teammate unless I could provide some value to him. For the first few months, I took strategic back-end projects that I knew the teammate would find difficult and I forced him to involve me with them in terms of review. Often, when we would have discussions, he would refuse to let you speak and would interrupt you and then talk for five to ten minutes non-stop. I decided to remain calm when this happened and allowed him to say what he wanted to say before beginning to ask him questions. I also assured him again and again that my goal was to produce the best design, not to question his capabilities. I found it useful at times to write everything down so he could read my comments before he came in. He began to see that my feedback was helping him, as the projects were becoming better designed. After a few months, I started having one-on-ones with him every two months. In these meetings, I would always quickly start with crucial conversations. The teammate would also provide me with some good feedback to me that I was able to analyze and internalize to get better over time. There's a great book called "Crucial Conversations", by Kerry Patterson, Al Switzler, Joseph Grenny, and Ron McMillan. They classify a crucial conversation as any conversation where the stakes are high, such as conversations about someone's job, about money, or emotion. The book suggests that you should start by agreeing on and acknowledging your common goal, and then openly expressing your concern. However, when expressing your concern, keep an open mind. Be okay with the idea that your initial thoughts may be completely wrong. As a project manager, I was responsible for his tasks. If he failed, then I would have failed. I've now been working with the James for a year and a half and over that time, our relationship has really changed. He now openly praises me for writing good documentation, staying calm, and speaking in a thorough manner. He's also gotten used to coming to me for help when he has questions about a task and directs people to me when he's unsure.

Lessons learned

The only way to solve this sort of situation is to understand the context of your position and the other person's position, and why you are viewed as a threat. Then look at why you were brought in, what value you can bring to the table to gain trust. In the past, I was a little impatient. I could wait for a few minutes for someone to stop talking but when people would talk non-stop for ten minutes I would grow frustrated. In the past, I would stop people as they were speaking to ask questions of them. However, I have now learned to listen to people until they feel they've expressed themselves because once they feel like they've been heard, they're much more open to discussing their ideas and to questions asked of them.


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