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I can’t be strict with junior colleagues in my office

The Yomiuri Shimbun Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a female company employee in my 20s, and I’ve been told by my superior at work to instruct my junior colleagues strictly, which is a problem for me.

I usually try to sincerely listen to my junior colleagues and praise them as much as I can. Because of that, it seems I’m recognized by them as a senior colleague who is easy to talk to. My ideal self image is “a senior colleague who is usually kind but sometimes strict.” But things aren’t going well.

When I asked my superior for advice, they said, “Don’t be seen as a doormat by your junior colleagues,” and: “Don’t talk to them so indirectly. It doesn’t work. It’s important that you be strict with them.”

I can philosophically understand what my superior said, but, in fact, I don’t feel like behaving that way. Hearing the superior, I felt as if my efforts of carefully listening to my junior colleagues weren’t appreciated at all and, instead, my ability to lead was under fire. It made me feel empty.

To tell the truth, I don’t want my junior colleagues to regard me as an annoying senior colleague at work. It’s probably because I’ve worked with so many annoying senior colleagues, but have had no opportunity to work with a senior colleague I can look up to. Please help me.

U, Tokyo

Dear Ms. U:

Let me start off by telling you an anecdote I’ve heard before: At a nursing care facility for the aged, staff members have discontinued a routine of asking persons admitted to the facility, “Does that taste good?” about the meals they served. Instead the staff members have started dining together with the aged while saying “This tastes great, doesn’t it?” to each other. The staff members’ relationships with the aged drastically changed for the better.

It seems you are forcibly trying to be superior to your junior colleagues, which does not suit you. You probably feel happier when working hard on what you are assigned to do. That happy, exciting feeling can certainly be felt by your junior colleagues who work around you.

So, I think it’s important for you to let them learn from seeing how you work sincerely, not order them around or scold them. To do so, you yourself must brilliantly shine. You have no time to worry about how to deal with them.

Stop thinking how you should “coach” them. Instead, rack your brain to create a workplace in which you all can enjoy working together.

In general, when coaching somebody, it always builds hierarchical relations. This then inevitably develops into a power relationship, and it is difficult to break high and low positions once they become established.

Instead, why not show them how you can enjoy working well and how you are sincere at work, without cutting corners? It’s the quickest, most effective way to deal with them as their senior worker.

Kiyokazu Washida, philosopher

(from March 20, 2015, issue)

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