A reader writes:
Just wanted to get your thoughts on how to deal with people who take things personally at work. I am a natural hard-ass at work, precisely because I roll out policies and procedures in my current company. I am good at what I do, and I get great feedback from my bosses in my assignments. Trouble is, because of the policies I create, I impact the whole organization in a negative way (my policies are around cost control and expense management which naturally make me Public Enemy #1, but they will be good for the company in the long run).
I am just doing my job the best way I can, but people in my company have associated me personally to what I do. I get pouts, snobs when I enter the elevator. People do not respond to my emails when I need to have a question answered. I am basically shunned! It kind of hurts that people do not see this as purely business, that this is my job.
How do you think I should deal with this?
Hmmm. Aside from their behavior toward you, how are you acting toward them? Are you being warm and friendly, showing camaraderie, and working to get to know them?
I ask because I suspect the reactions that you’re getting aren’t simply part of the package with the role you’re in; I suspect it’s something about the way you’re going about the role — your style with people.
And I say that because this is a role where your style really matters. Because the work you’re doing can easily position you as the bad cop, you need to make a point of ensuring that your style doesn’t reinforce or feed into that. If all people know of you is that you’re the person who issues edicts that make their lives more difficult, then yeah, they’re not going to feel especially warmly toward you. But if you’re warm and friendly toward people — possibly more than what might come naturally to you — it’s going to be harder to see you as the grinch.
And it will also help if you educate people about what you do and why (if you’re not doing this already). For instance, rather than simply rolling out a new policy or procedure, make sure that you take the time to explain why — what alternatives were considered, what the consequences would be without the new policy, and so forth. That too makes it a lot harder for people to see you the way they might if all they know of your work is that it seems to lack empathy for or understanding of how it impacts them.
When you’re good at what you do and you’re getting good feedback from your manager, it’s easy to feel like this kind of thing shouldn’t matter. But it does — both because you’re hurt by the response that you’re getting from people and because it will almost certainly make you even better at your job. Having policies that benefit the organization is a good thing, but having buy-in on those policies from employees — or at least understanding of why those policies exist — is even better.
If you feel like you’re doing everything above and still running into this, then at that point you might consider soliciting feedback from people around you about what they might see that you don’t. It’s possible, after all, that it’s something entirely different from the above. But the above is where I’d start, before resigning yourself to the idea that the job itself will make people dislike you.