How to Influence and Change the Difficult Behaviour Traits of a Supervisor

When you are trying to change the behaviour of a colleague a direct challenge is not always the best approach. A direct challenge will usually generate an aggressive reaction from the colleague especially if they cannot see that their behaviour is causing a problem. I have worked with many managers who have stated, that their attempts or the attempts of others in the organisation have failed to change the attitude of a difficult supervisor when using a direct approach.

Let’s look at three examples of difficult behaviour:

A deliberate avoidance of the more mundane tasks
Unnecessary delegation of tedious administration tasks to subordinates
Poor tonality and choice of language when speaking to subordinates

When someone is only in a position of power on the odd occasion, for example when the manager is not on site, they may have a tendency to abuse that power. Rather than directly challenging the behaviour I would like to encourage you to lead. Below are some suggestions on how you might influence the supervisor and encourage more positive behaviour.

1. Make sure that your colleague is aware that you do mundane tasks as well. Think about those jobs that you probably do automatically, just because they need doing. Clearly when you have other responsibilities you can not dedicate all your time to doing the work of others, but a shining example especially when drawn to the attention of the supervisor in question will add weight to your argument. Help the supervisor to understand the impact of you taking on some of these tasks on the team and how it engenders respect. Talk with your supervisor about your thinking behind these actions in the context of motivating the team and inspiring them to perform with commitment. Then agree that this is an exciting opportunity for you both to lead the team.

2. Having this moment of power is not an opportunity to hand down all the tedious tasks that your supervisor does not want to do. Ask the supervisor if there is any need to pass on work that they would normally do. Check that the extra management responsibilities will not dictate the need to pass on the mundane tasks. If the supervisor agrees that they have time to do the jobs without resorting to passing them on the there is no reason why they should do this in your absence. Even when there are jobs that need to be delegated then there is an effective way of requesting this support.

3. How do we deal with a supervisor who becomes a stereo typical sergeant major when you are not in the office. For this challenge we are going to use a story. Now, there isn’t sufficient time in this article to expand on how powerful stories can be when challenging behaviour but we can address this specific issue.

Sit down with the supervisor and tell them a story. Not a random story but a story that describes a similar situation where an interim manager behaves in a negative style. You may need to be creative and draw on your personal experience that you can relate or perhaps you will need to adapt the story so that the important message is clear, that the behaviour had a negative impact on the team. After you have described the situation you may be able to have a brief discussion and ask the supervisor to suggest ways in which the manager in the story could have done things differently. The power here is learning through a third part reference. This enables you both to discuss the situation as spectators so that you can influence the supervisor’s mind-set and behaviours.