By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services
Q. I have an employee that treats "no" as little more than a speed bump. He just goes faster and pretends I didn't say anything. Also, if I give him an inch on any policy, he figures the policy doesn't even apply. I have had repeated conversations where I point out the rules; he smiles and then does what he damn pleases. How do I get him to toe the line?
A. You are facing a typical managerial frustration. Most people don't like the word "no." You will get your employee to toe the line when you stop talking and simply make it extremely painful to speed up as he cruises by posted limits. The first time we learn to dislike the word "no" is when we are about 18 months old. The reason we have dubbed this developmental phase the Terrible Twos is because parents generally are put through heck by their clever, stubborn toddler.
Unfortunately, the workplace is full of people whose parents never really figured out how to make them respect the word "no." One of the best resources for effective management, ironically, is parenting books. Most problems you'll run into as a manager are unresolved issues the parents of your employees didn't handle well. There are three styles of parenting, and managers often use only one of them. The first style is autocratic (You do what I say or I'll spank you!), the second is permissive (Isn't it cute you're setting the cat's tail on fire?), and the last is authoritative (I listen and understand but I have the final say).
Most of your employees were either parenting with autocratic parents (which makes people sneaky) or permissive parents (which makes people narcissistic). The employees that were parenting with a balance of limits and consequences will never be your problem "children."
Your specific employee clearly had parents of the permissive sort. He expects you'll talk and talk and talk, and he can do whatever the heck he wants. If you want his respect, you need to stop talking and start acting.
Set up a private meeting and let him know you want to continue to have him on your team. Then hand him a list of behaviors that aren't working with a list of concrete consequences that will occur next time he does one of these behaviors. Classic consequences can include a day of suspension, being barred from participating in important events, and even ultimately losing his job.
Remember throughout your conversations that these consequences are his choice! Make it clear to him that you respect whatever decisions he makes regarding his new knowledge about behavior and consequences. Emphasize that you know he will let you know whether there is a match between what this job requires and what he is willing to do. Then let the chips fall. The beauty of this approach to parenting and to management is you are no longer the bad guy or gal. You have the power to determine all the boundaries and expectations, but your employee has the power to keep or lose the job.
Next time your employee cruises past an office speed bump, the only one who will get hurt is him. As I have often told my kids, "Suffering is the great teacher of youth!" Take yourself out of the cycle of useless arguments. Let your employee suffer and decide whether he is ready to grow up.
Q. I feel insecure all the time at my office. I try to read between the lines, read body language and guess at what people think of my work, but I don't know if I'm right. Is there any surefire way to know what people think of my work?
A. Yes, ask! Making up information without concrete data makes all human beings feel insecure.
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). Contact her a0t www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. This was published in the December 29, 2013 - January 11, 2014 edition.