Avoiding a New Supervisor Trap

Question:

I got promoted to supervisor because my coworkers liked me–or did before I became their supervisor.

The problem started a couple of weeks after I became the supervisor. One of my employees had gone behind the building to smoke. When he came back in, I said, “hey you left without telling anyone, and a customer called for you. Martha put the customer on hold. He got angry because you didn’t pick up.”

“That wasn’t my fault. I didn’t know.”

“Well, Martha assumed you’d gone to the bathroom.”

“So, go scold Martha.”

“Martha felt bad.”

“Big whoop.”

“You need to tell your coworkers when you’re leaving your desk.”

“So, I forgot. Power’s going to your head.”

Later that day, I overheard him telling others that power was going to my head. Things have gone downhill since then. What did I do wrong? How do I fix this?

Answer:

First, you need to learn how to bring up problems. While you were “straight” with your employee, “hey, you left…,” you also “jumped him” with what he’d done wrong.

Your correction would have worked better if you’d said, “hey, there was an issue a few minutes ago. One of your teammates put a customer who’d called for you on hold, assuming you were just in the bathroom.”

If you then pause, your employee will probably say, “I was just outside.” You could then say, “Okay, so going forward, please let your teammates know when you leave for a smoke break. That way, you won’t return to an angry customer.”

Second, you shifted roles when you took on the mantle of supervisor. That can be hard for your former coworkers and friends to accept.

You can make it easier for them—and you, if you sit down with each one and say, “I want to be a good supervisor. I have a couple questions for you.”

Then, ask,

“How can I make it not weird when I tell you that you’ve done a great job?”

“If I have to discipline you, how do you want me to go about doing that?”

“How do you want me to communicate with you?”

“What would you think, he’s actually turned out pretty good as a supervisor.”

Finally, mend fences. Although your employee shrugged off his responsibility with a “big whoop,” signaling he didn’t get the point, you can fix your end of the problem by saying, “a couple of weeks ago, I jumped you. I’m still learning how to be a supervisor. I want to apologize.”

Apologies go a long way to fix things.

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One thought on “Avoiding a New Supervisor Trap

  1. So, so wise. How I wish I found the better, best words to say and did not blurt or jump people when a difficult conversation comes up.

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