Let’s say you are promoted to take over a mat leave. You already know the people on the team and there’s one person who has just rubbed you the wrong way since you met them. It’s not that there is anything wrong with them, but for some reason you just don’t like them. Now you’re tasked with managing them.
What would a bad manager or one with low emotional intelligence do? Roll your eyes at them in meetings when they express something you don’t agree with, get visibly annoyed with their reaction to your feedback (without ever asking them how they want to receive feedback), and dismiss their fears when they complain of being set up to fail or that they don’t have enough work (even if you think it’s true). Then because you’ve done nothing to support this person, hopefully, they’ll be fired. It might feel like a win cause you don’t have to deal with them, but, in reality, it has shown poor management skills and that you really should have never been chosen to lead this person or team.
People end up in this bad manager category because it’s hard to manage someone you don’t like or someone whose personality is a lot different than your own. It’s tempting to put on your manager hat and pretend that you are impartial and can judge them fairly. But the truth is, you can’t. If your lens is coloured with dislike, you can’t be unprejudiced, objective, neutral, or fair – that’s not the way humans with their myriad of unconscious biases are wired.
So what would a great leader do?
First, find things you like about the person. This will require some work on your part but everyone has good and bad. Go out of your way to find the things they do well, what contributions they make to the team, and what aspects of their personality you admire. Are they dedicated, see problems from a new angle, loyal, punctual? Make a mental list of all of the good things they do or bring to the table and make sure to point out these strengths in interactions with them. This positive reinforcement will not only motivate them but it will help you be a better manager.
Second, make sure you are finding opportunities to mentor and coach them. When you don’t like someone, you might be tempted to make your 1:1s more of a weekly check-in where you get updates on progress or you simply point out areas of improvement without offering guidance on how to improve. Make sure that you are spending close to equal time nurturing strengths and finding those mentoring moments.
Third, go out of your way to be genuinely nice – the key being the word genuine. Similar to the “fake til you make it” strategy, act like you like them until you do. Simple things like making sure to say hi in the morning and asking about the weekend can make all the difference. Limiting interactions to only during scheduled meetings won’t create opportunities to build connections. Maybe there is a hobby or TV show you both share that can be the starting point of learning to like someone.
Have you ever had to manage someone you don’t like? How did you make it work?