I don’t love every one of my employees. In fact, I don’t like quite a few of them.
I’m not complaining, just stating a fact. I doubt there’s a CEO anywhere who adores each and every person on the payroll. So how do you manage those whom you don’t particularly enjoy being around?
At my best, I remove personality from the equation. I don’t care who I like and dislike, only who can perform. You’ve heard it before and I’ll say it again: Focus on the actions and results, not on the person.
But it’s impossible to ignore the personal dimension entirely. Take the person who’s always overstating the obvious or telling silly jokes. You could use your favorite co-workers as shields to isolate you from tedious employees, but 1) you shouldn’t play favorites and 2) if you do cut yourself off from certain employees, your disdain will grow and soon become entrenched.
Listen first, then judge
To fight the impulses of avoidance and disdain, I get to know my employees, even the ones I don’t like. That goes against the grain of what I want to do, which is draw a mental X across them and avoid them like the plague.
I force myself to ask about their personal lives—what they do at home, their families and hobbies. It doesn’t take much time and it’s hard to judge them so harshly once they start opening up.
Just last week, I ran into one of my IT guys in the hall. In the year since we hired him, I’ve found him almost totally uncommunicative, a robot. And I don’t trust him. But I decided to engage him in a conversation. I asked how he liked the neighborhood where he lives and about a new mall that opened nearby.
After listening to him for five minutes, I started to see him come out of his shell. My contempt mellowed into grudging respect when he told me how he’s helping a neighbor rebuild his life after a tragedy. I still don’t love him like a brother, but at least now I’ll talk to him.
Send the right signals
In some cases, I never grow to like someone. They just irritate me, and that’s that.
I can think of one person whose mere presence makes me squirm. Until a trusted lieutenant pointed out to me that I was literally leaning away from this person, I didn’t realize how much my body language revealed my feelings.
So now I’m aware of the nonverbal messages I send when I’m talking to an employee I don’t like.
First, I use eye contact. In a group, I won’t ignore someone while only looking at the most friendly or attractive person around. Second, I maintain an open posture without folding my arms across my chest. Third, I smile and behave in a cordial, professional manner.
It’s my job to separate my antipathy from what has to get done. The more I dislike someone, the more I try to shove it aside.
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