My new manager assumes I’m junior. Help!

My new manager assumes I’m junior. Help!

My industry is pretty small. My new manager knew me when I first started years ago. I have had a pretty quick rise and now we’re only one level apart. He’s new to the company and a nice guy but he’s treating me like a junior associate and it’s making me crazy. I don’t want my reputation to suffer. How do I handle this? T.S., New York, NY

His behavior says a lot more about him than it does about you. Try and remember that in order to stay objective. After all, if you act defensively it gives credence to whatever is being said. And he can’t “[make] you crazy” unless you let him. Remember, you have a history of being valued at your company so anything he has to say about you in the short run will be weighed against what others already know about you.

Also, I wouldn’t assume he doesn’t mean well—unless you have specific examples of his ill intent. When he’s recalling his experience with you, it’s natural that he’d think of you as more junior than you are. Often we remember people at the age/level they were when we met them. Since there’s a gap between his perception and your current reality, you need to help him align.

For example, if he is being overly directive you might say something like, “Let me know what you need and I’ll come to you if I have any questions or need help. I know you have a lot on your plate and I don’t want to add work to it. You know, it may be that because you knew me from years ago you might imagine I need more backstory than I do.” Words to this affect will reassure him of your understanding of the relationship (e.g., you’re the subordinate), your desire to make his job easier, and gives him a way to understand whatever assumptions he’s making.

I would do this several times and if he doesn’t seem to be “getting it,” then you’ll need to have a direct conversation. It could sound something like “Phil, you may not realize you’re doing this but when you do x, y, z, I feel like you’re questioning my abilities and don’t trust my judgment. Is there something I’ve done—or not done—that is making you feel this way?” You’re telling him how his behavior makes you feel (he can’t argue with that) and are asking for clarification for what specifically has made him draw his conclusion. By giving him an out (“you may not realize”), you’re not backing him into a corner and you’re being crystal clear about what is problematic with his behavior. If there is something you’ve done that has caused legitimate concerns, this gives you an opportunity to correct your behavior.

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