Annoying Subordinates

June 14, 2018

Does your direct report get on your nerves? In this episode of HBR’s advice podcast, Dear HBR:, cohosts Alison Beard and Dan McGinn answer your questions with the help of Art Markman, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin and cohost of the podcast Two Guys on Your Head. They talk through how to manage someone who is unlikable, overly polite, or passive-aggressive.

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Listen to more episodes and find out how to subscribe on the Dear HBR: page. Send in your questions about workplace dilemmas by emailing Dan and Alison at dearhbr@hbr.org.

From Alison and Dan’s reading list for this episode:

HBR: How to Help an Employee Who Rubs People the Wrong Way by Rebecca Knight — “If you’ve ever cringed in a meeting when your direct report was talking, you know how tough it can be to watch a team member undermine themselves. Maybe the person is interrupting colleagues too often. Or being condescending, or even combative. No matter the specific behavior, your employee is clearly rubbing people the wrong way. As the manager, you know it’s your job to address the issue, but you’re not sure how to start the conversation.”

Psychology Today: Understanding Passive Aggressive Behavior by Signe Whitson — “The passive-aggressive person believes life will only get worse if other people know of his anger, so he expresses his feelings indirectly, using a variety of behaviors to subtly ‘get back’ at another person.  While anger itself is generally experienced as an uncomfortable emotion, the passive-aggressive person derives genuine pleasure out of frustrating others, hence our label of the behavior as ‘the angry smile.’”

HBR: How to Give Feedback to People Who Cry, Yell, or Get Defensive by Amy Jen Su — “Emotional reactions can put us on opposite sides of the table with the other person. By focusing on good intentions, preparing with integrity, and calmly and effectively responding in the moment, we can move to the same side of the table and help the other person grow.”

HBR: How to Tell a Coworker They’re Annoying You by Caroline Webb — “But research suggests that letting something simmer can make things worse, for several reasons. When we’re stressed, our brain tends to mount a defensive ‘fight-flight-or-freeze’ response—during which there’s reduced activity in brain areas responsible for reasoning, self-control, and forward thinking. And trying to suppress our irritation has been found to make our brain’s defensive response more pronounced rather than less.”

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