Q: Whenever I try to instruct one of my employees, he becomes argumentative and insists on doing things his own way. If I attempt to explain why certain procedures must be followed, “Tom” continues to press his point until I finally get frustrated and end the conversation. Later, I usually find that he has completely ignored my directions.
Tom is a relatively new employee, so he doesn’t have enough knowledge or experience to make informed decisions. Nevertheless, sometimes I just tell him to do whatever he wants, because I don’t have time for these lengthy disagreements. How do you handle someone like this?
A: Tom may be an unmanageable upstart, but you have unwittingly become his enabler. By participating in pointless arguments and allowing your instructions to be ignored, you have clearly shown Tom that, regardless of what you may say, he will ultimately be allowed to do as he pleases.
Your first objective, therefore, is to regain control of this situation. Having previously abdicated your leadership role, you must now “declare the dawn of a new day,” which simply means telling Tom in no uncertain terms that his oppositional behavior will no longer be tolerated.
For example: “Tom, I have previously been much too lenient about letting you ignore required procedures. From now on, you are expected to follow directions, even if you disagree. I will be glad to answer legitimate questions about your work, but I’m not going to engage in debates. If you continue to disregard instructions, you will receive a performance warning. But if you show you can be trusted, perhaps you can be given more autonomy.”
For this approach to work, you must take two additional steps. First, before sitting down with Tom, review the problem with your manager and request support for your plan. Before any serious performance discussion, you need to be sure your boss will back you up.
Second, having delivered this warning, you absolutely must follow through. So the next time Tom begins to argue, which he undoubtedly will, firmly remind him of the previous conversation, then immediately end the discussion. To be sure he doesn’t wander off track, check his work regularly and refuse to accept any deviations.
If Tom gets the message and becomes more compliant, you can gradually loosen the reins. But if he stubbornly continues his defiance, you must keep your word and initiate formal corrective action.
Q: For the past two years, I have worked with a reputable employment agency that sends me out on temporary assignments. Each of these projects has lasted several months. Now, when I apply for full-time positions, I get turned down for interviews because my resume shows too many short-term jobs. How can I fix this problem?
A: Fortunately, this issue can be resolved with a quick resume revision. Instead of listing each temp assignment as a separate job, simply show the agency as your employer for the entire two-year period, then list the individual projects under that position. This not only keeps you from looking like a job-hopper, but also paints a more accurate picture of your recent work history.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.” Send in questions and get free coaching tips at http://www.yourofficecoach.com, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.