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BLUF: I'm a male front-line manager with an extremely feminist female direct that is suspicious of everything I do. What are the best practices for interacting with her?

I've been a manager for about 6 years and long-time MT/CT listener; it's great guidance. I work in tech and have mostly managed men. My first female direct is a High-I/High-D, extreme feminist that is suspicious of everything I do. I believe I'm very fair and nonbiased, yet breaking down this barrier has been very tough. My approach to date has been to simply engage in the standard MT best practices like I would with anyone. I'm concerned that I don't have the right perspective and I'm missing something -- I want to be a good manager in her eyes. I've advocated successfully on her behalf for a significant bonus, merit raise and training budget. She has a large amount of freedom to be self-directed and creative in her work activities (I'm not micromanaging). She's relatively early in her career and needs to develop more professionalism overall but she is good at her job. However, I continue to get the impression from her that I cannot be trusted and I'm undermining her and others on the team at every turn. She is only somewhat communicative in one-on-ones and while she will open up at times, I frequently get the impression she's holding back on what she really thinks. I was brought into the organization from the outside to manage the team and she was already an employee. I suspect she'd rather see herself in my role.

As an example, I cannot use any typically benign male-based reference without scoffing, eyes rolling, sighing, etc. (e.g., the expression "to each his own" draws a quick correction of "to each their own").

Everyone I've talked to tells me that she's odd or unreasonable in her behaviors but I can't help feel like I'm missing something. I want to have a positive and constructive relationship. My instinct tells me she's just unprofessional. I'm reluctant to address her over the top "feminism" with feedback as I'm concerned with how that will go over. 

I have another female direct that I hired-on myself a year ago. I definitely don't have the same issues with her. She's also quite a bit more professional (thanks MT interviewing guidance!).

Has anyone encountered a similar situation before? How did you handle it? Do I stick with the MT basics or do something in particular to address this?

williamelledgepe's picture

Short answer: Manage her the same way you manage everyone else.

Long Answer: Using MT best practices is fundamental - and I like that you're doing that.  You clearly see her as a good performer if you've lobbied on her behalf - keep that up (insofar as her behavior supports it).  

Regarding her not opening up in O3s - if she brings up topics that are relevant - keep at it - that's part of what you do to build trust.  I know you've listened to this cast (https://www.manager-tools.com/2010/10/resistant-directs-one-ones), but if it has not dropped to that level of non-communication I would just keep at it.  You can't force her into being comfortable opening up to you; but over time through showing that you listen, follow thru, and care - she will eventually start to grow more comfortable with you.  

She is a High I High D; I've not met many High I's that stay quiet for long.

Regarding your "impression from her that I cannot be trusted and I'm undermining her and others on the team at every turn." Identify what it is that gives you that impression.   If you get that impression because she behaves a certain way then provide feedback.  For example, "When you scoff and roll your eyes, I wonder if you have something else to say."  -or- "When you scoff and roll your eyes, it degrades communication between you and I." - or- "When you scoff and roll your eyes, I don't get your meaning." -then- "Can you be more open/clear/specific with you communciation?"

Regarding a "benign male-based reference" - I would own that and say "Thank you, I should change the way I say that."  Then actually try to modify your words.  "Benign" is a judgement that may or may not be accurate - and to be honest - in this case it probably doesn't matter if it is an accurate judgement or not.  You have a direct who would prefer you not say those words.  Its easy enough a change for you to make - and build trust in the process.  

nm04265's picture

I am with williamelledgepe.  Some really great advice there.

To me she does not seem like an I, suspecting more D…..therefore.  I would provide the exact feedback on her rolling eyes etc as williamelledgepe suggests; and would start in the order he suggests:  This one first "When you scoff and roll your eyes, I wonder if you have something else to say.” Gives her a chance to come clean… if that doesn’t work, you can put more tension in the wire the next time you see it….

No variance from MT-way in my view, and my complements to williamelledgepe in the solid answer.

Cheers,