my assistant keeps arguing with me — Ask a Manager

Re LW1, I appreciate Alison raising the possibility that there could be context for why it’s best to do it the “old” way. I’ve been in both situations and can appreciate frustration on both sides. In one case, it was a child-centred job, in which I knew the kids really, really well. I would have been absolutely fine with, “we’re changing our stance/attitude/rules from x to y for [reason]”, but instead it was always a kind of, “absolutely not, I don’t care what context [child] has – it doesn’t change my expectations!” (when I knew from experience that actually going through the context as the child lived it, rather than just hearing it, flatly, would have meant a gentler approach). I left very quickly, as I felt my knowledge and expertise was ignored.

On the other hand, I’ve been in a team in which every change suggested by new manager was opposed by longer standing team members, on the basis that they liked how it had previously been. We all had to debate and discuss every little thing ad nauseam. Exhausting!

Luckily, I think the same approach can probably work in either setting. You can do as Alison suggests, and really listen when the employee explains why they’re so oppositional. Ultimately, you’re the boss and you decide – but if you have the conversation and listen well, you’re deciding with all the facts.

If it really is every decision over many, disparate things, then there’s no way the employee has a good reason for opposing all of them. But it’s theoretically possible that the employee may point out a theme (as in my example, the theme would be: “we’re becoming far more punitive, even with children who need a gentler approach, due to their past traumas or additional needs”, but it could also be, “you’ve changed up the responsibilities for who handles which projects and they’ll all shoot the messenger if I tell them” or similar.). If there’s a theme, it’s a good time to then explain why you’re heading down the new path – if you have a good reason, it might be convincing, and at worst, it should hopefully convert the thousands of small battles into one slightly larger one. I’m a big proponent of, “because I say so” may be your prerogative, but it will get people’s backs up. It may be necessary in very sensitive, need-to-know situations. But if you can share, it can only help.

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