New boss lost old friend

Dear Joan:
Recently, I was given a temporary assignment as an assistant supervisor. The regular assistant supervisor is on maternity leave for three months.

I'm 35 and have been in this unit for three years. I've recently decided to go back to school for my degree because I realize I won't have as good a chance to get ahead otherwise.

There are five people in this unity. One person is really giving me the cold shoulder since I got this job. We used to be friends. I think she felt that she should have gotten this temporary position because she's been here over four years.

My supervisor has been pretty supportive but he's new to the job, so I want to make a good impression.

How should I handle this fellow worker since I must return to my former position and once again be her co-worker? Also, since I want to get ahead, how can I impress my supervisor at the same time? I'd hate to lose a friend, but I'd hate to lose this opportunity even more. I'll only be in this job another two months.

Moving ahead of former peers is usually a ticklish proposition. In your case, it's especially difficult because it may only be temporary. I say, "may be temporary" because you stand a good chance of winning a promotion if you handle it well.

Your supervisor has recognized your interpersonal skills by appointing you to this position. He will need to rely on your knowledge of the unity to anticipate and resolve problems - both technical and people. You will be able to score big by calmly confronting this issue as an experienced supervisor would.

First, analyze exactly what your former peer is doing to lead you to believe she is giving you the cold shoulder. Assumptions and projections are dangerous since you may have misinterpreted them. For example, "She hasn't returned my phone calls or notes, is uncharacteristically quiet in meetings, has stopped eating lunch with me." etc.

You really don't know what your former peer is thinking so you will have to find out. I suggest that you talk to her alone before briefing your supervisor. If you tell your supervisor first, you run the risk of this new boss stepping in and making it worse. He may be inexperienced in these matters and think he should solve the problem rather than letting you take the first crack at it. Your friend may be feeling hurt and jealous, so telling her boss could be perceived as kicking her when she's down.

Get a private conference room and ask her if she has a few minutes to talk. Don't give her a lot of advance warning. It's probably better to catch her a little by surprise, so she doesn't have time to get agitated.

Calmly, begin the discussion by saying, "I've been noticing a few things lately that have troubled me, and I thought it would be a good idea to clear the air." Then carefully, specifically, describe the behavior you've seen.

Let her react to this and try to assess the motivation behind her behavior. If you believe that she is angry about not getting your job, say, "I know you must have been disappointed when I got this assignment. If the situation had been reversed, I would have been, too. But the only choice either of us has is to support me in my job, because I intend to do the same for you."

There's a good chance she may be defensive and either clam up or attack something you've done. Your best bet is to ask her if you have done anything to hurt or annoy her. Then listen carefully to her remarks.

Whatever you do, don't get defensive in return. Instead, listen carefully to what she says, ask for clarification if necessary, paraphrase what she says and then say, "What would you prefer I do in these situations?" This will give her a chance to vent constructively.

If it's clear she is not going to be reasonable, don't beg, call on past friendship, or threaten. Calmly say that you were hoping you could both work this out without taking it to your supervisor. This should give you the leverage you need to bring her back in focus.

If she is reasonable in the discussion and admits to feeling resentful, don't apologize for your role. Simply treat it as reality and ask her if she has any suggestions that would help you both work together.

If your plan works, you can brief your boss at a later date and compliment your co-worker for turning it around. If all fails, tell your supervisor what you have observed, the action you took and a recommendation for future interactions.

I doubt you will have to take it that far but if you do, stay objective and professional. If you do that, you can't help but win no matter what your co-worker does.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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