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Veterans vs. Hot Shot Newbies:
Relieving Tension in The Workplace

By Dr. Venus Opal Reese

Imagine: five years, ten years, decades of your life you have poured into this company. All of a sudden, this bright-eyed, overly enthusiastic, (more often than not younger) hotshot barrels in and steals all of the boss’ favor, attention, and resource. You feel so old. Useless. Used up. Nobody knows the trouble you’ve seen or your sorrows. Can you just hear the strings of sorrow, resentment, frustration, and silent upset waiting to happen in the background? Sad to say this is the experience of many veteran employees when the boss makes new hires.

When there is tension, resentment, and frustration in the background between you and your direct reports, you lose money. The veteran (VP, project manager, director, entrepreneur, or any position in upper management) has rich knowledge and experience and the new powerhouse has passion. But because of resentment they will not work together and if they do, the work is tense, strained, hostile and counter-productive. Each employee feels threatened. Threatened like their survival is at stake. The brain cannot tell the difference between a real or imagined threat. The same circuits in the nervous system that go off when a person thinks they are being followed by a mugger on a dark street is the same circuits that go off when a new person enters a familiar situation or when an establish person doesn’t get returned calls from the boss. Survival ensues. When corporate leaders of any kind are in survival mode, they cannot think let alone create new solutions in partnership with the person for who looks like the boss is kicking them to the curb.

As the CEO, CFO, owner, dean, president, or leader you can greatly alleviate this tension and potential loss of revenue by doing the following to minimize threat and maximize reward:

1. Listen “for”: Listening for is different from listening to. Listening to you hear the words; listening for you hear the heart. When you listen for you put your attention on what this person is trying to express. Ignore the words. Listen for where that person is coming from and what they really want you to hear. They may say, “Newbie is arrogant and doesn’t know the history of our company” what I hear, “I know things that Newbie doesn’t and I want you to value that as much as Newbie’s passion and I want you to let Newbie know that I have value here.” If you put your attention on listening for what that person is not saying and then address it, you will move the veteran out of survival.

2. Leaving others known: when you leave a person known, you speak directly to what they value emotionally and intellectually. Employees are people before they are job descriptions. They need to know that you as the boss respect them emotionally and intellectually. The way you discern what they value is to pay attention to what their actions demonstrate they value. This may be different than what they say. One newbie employee may say she values autonomy but she is always at your door letting you know what she has just accomplished. What she values is recognition. Or the veteran employee may say he values teamwork but he is always self-imposing his opinion and leadership onto the other employees without their consent. He values respect and authority. People’s behaviors tell you what they value. Paying attention pays.

3. Public Acknowledgement: People require care. Most people have been trained to not ask for acknowledgement for fear of looking egotistical. Yet acknowledgement, specifically in front of peers, that is based on tangible results creates a sense of certainty and fairness in the eyes of all. When you acknowledge your employees, be they veterans or Newbies, they have the experience of being validated without having to beg for it. This public acknowledgement raises their perceived stature in the eyes of their peers and that builds confidence and connectedness. The fair public acknowledgement also levels the field and lowers threat.

4. Shared Experience: Create an occasion where the veteran can teach the Newbie something and the Newbie can energize something the veteran is passionate about. Make the project light and fun. It could be planning a team outing or a fundraising event. It could be a presentation for the Board of Directors about the future of the company by combining each of their unique talents. You want them to have benefit from each other. Create a low risk, low threat situation where they can learn form each other.

5. Three-step clear space process: If there is bad blood between the veteran and the Newbie, here is a 3-step process that works every time: Write down the answer to the following questions:

1) What am I willing to give?

2) What requests am I willing to make?

3) What am I willing to forgive?

When people have the opportunity to say what they are willing to do, ask, and forgive, you then can find out what the true broken trust is and you can start to craft projects and opportunities that tie directly to what they value. By so doing, you are working in partnership with them instead of superimposing your will. This partnership creates a safe, transparent space to work and alleviates stress. Forgiveness is a grace and when a person is willing to forgive others their human failing, there is the opportunity to bring creation instead of reaction into the work place.

People require care. By acknowledging the talents and rich resources of each of your direct reports you create an environment that is safe for people to grow. When you minimize threat by listening for, leaving people known, acknowledgement, shared experience, and clearing space you maximize reward in the form of peace of mind, team work, and creativity. Stress leaves the work place when each team member is recognized and respected for what they bring to the table both intellectually and emotionally.

Read other articles and learn more about Dr. Venus Opal Reese.

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