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Dear Career Coach, I was recently promoted at work and my cultural upbringing is making it awkward for me to treat an older subordinate with authority. How can I be more assertive without compromising my values?

Dear Career Coach

I was recently promoted at work and one of my subordinates is much older than me. I know that he is aggrieved at having been passed over for my job as he has been with the company for almost 20 years. My cultural upbringing is also making it awkward for me to treat an older person with authority. How can I be more assertive without compromising my values?

If it’s any comfort, you are not alone in having to deal with the conflict that can arise between cultural values and corporate demands. It can be very difficult to move from a cultural mindset that respects and looks up to older people as having greater wisdom and knowledge to having to give instructions to and, if necessary, discipline an older person in the workplace.

Change can be difficult for people to accept, and especially for older people who grew up in an era where seniority came automatically with length of service. But, due to better educational opportunities and the rise of technology, managers and leaders globally are getting younger. This can lead to resentment and anger among older employees as well as subtle or even outright sabotage, if they feel their positions or status are under threat.

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Bearing this in mind, try to bring your aggrieved colleague on board by making him feel included as much as possible in what is happening within your section. As he probably feels he has been pushed aside, let him know that you recognise the value of his experience and make him feel like a useful asset by consulting with him from time to time. Another approach is to identify projects or challenges that will make good use of his experience or enable him to coach or guide others in the team.

While you should do all you can to bring him along with you, you have earned the promotion and should not compromise your position as the manager. In the same way as another staff member may have a grievance about not having got the job, you need to address any challenges which have a negative impact on the team. If your colleague is underperforming or creating a disruption in the team because of his disappointment, you will have to tackle the problem through discussion and counselling and, if this fails, through disciplinary action in line with your company’s policies.

Assertiveness training can also help to give you the tools to communicate effectively in your position and to ensure that you find the right balance between your cultural values and getting your job done.

All the best!

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