Koan #13: When You Get The Role They Wanted

We usually send the situation in one newsletter and results in a following newsletter. Here the situations and results are copied verbatim into one post. Hence, when it says 'you' - it means the subscribers who voted in newsletter, not readers of this archive.
This situation was published in the 26 Apr 2021 newsletter.


Recently you and a peer who you have never got along with very well went for a promotion and you were successful in gaining the position. This now means that they will report to you. How would you deal with this?

Option A - Take some time to reflect on how you have worked positively with this person, to try to reverse the negativity you have towards them. You think this will be enough to keep the relationship moving forwards.

Option B - Ask if they’d like to go to lunch or for coffee one day and explain that a third party outside of the two of you made the decision and you’d like to make sure you can have a positive relationship moving forwards.

Option C - Offer to include them in discussions at the level of the new role with the hope that they will see that you want to support their development too.

Option D - Email or meet them to let them know that you will need and value them as part of the team as you take the lead, and that you’d like them to work with you on a new project in the role as you know they would add a lot to it. Ask them to get back to you soon to let you know if they’d be interested.


It is important to note two key things in this situation. Firstly, Ben Dattner, an organizational psychologist and author of The Blame Game says, ‘People liking each other is not a necessary component to organizational success’. It’s neither possible, nor ideal to build a team composed entirely of people you’d invite to your home for lunch. However, there are real pitfalls to disliking an employee. You may, consciously or unconsciously, mismanage them or treat them unfairly and fail to see the real benefit they can deliver to your team. You need to assume the best from them and get to know them better, including listening to their ideas and concerns.

Secondly, trust is complex and is based on reason and emotion. If your emotion is negative, reason will fall this way too. Thus, we must manage the emotional part of this before anything else.

Option A, which a fifth of us chose, challenges your bias by acknowledging that you may have overlooked positive aspects of working with this person. As their new manager you need to ensure that you do not exacerbate the issue you perceive. You want a team that works together, not against each other vying for pole position. One subscriber commented that we ‘need to recognise that I may be part of the problem, as well as signalling that I want an open dialogue that can lead to purposeful change’. Another useful comment from a subscriber on this was to meet with all team members, without singling out the person who also went for the role, including asking what they thought might change. The important point made was, ‘Most people, I feel, are reasonable and aimed towards positive outcomes. So unless they’re really malicious, my job would be to better clarify the plans to them, and listen if their disagreement and suggestions uncover blindspots in my own thinking’. Remember that it is much easier to change your perspective than to ask someone to be a different kind of person. What this option fails to do is acknowledge that this situation may be difficult for them too, or actively involve them moving forwards

Options B, C and D allow you to set the tone for your new role as their manager, and all have their merits as they involve spending more time with that person which can help you to appreciate them more too. In fact, HBR suggests that you should do all three in order to build a positive start to working as the manager of that person. Some subscribers this week suggested doing a combination of actions, most commonly combining A and B or B and D. Options B to D make it clear how you see your role and theirs.

Meeting them to talk about the situation as in Option B, which 10% of us chose, is called ‘redirection’ and sets the ground clear for both of you. You both know that it could be an awkward situation but you want to make the best of it. Discussing common ground away from the issues at hand can really help. We were interested to see that subscribers preferred the less direct method as in Option D.

Option C, named by HBR as reciprocity, offers them something which you know they would have got in the role and shows that you want to include them as a valued team member. However, this could also cause resentment with other members, or backfire and end up in the other person leaving the company, as suggested by a subscriber. Tread carefully if you take this approach. Another subscriber, who has been in this position, said that they have the unsuccessful party in mind for projects but must also remind themselves that at the end of the day they were chosen for the role and are being paid to do it! Part of the new role will mean you are privy to information that they are not and you will need to ensure that you share this through official channels rather than casual chats to ensure it remains professional.

Option D, this week’s most popular option, is named by HBR as rationality. This option offers them something to work on and shows that you have considered their strengths and how you can work with them on something moving forwards. This could perhaps act as a follow up action to Option A . This shows you want them to be your ally in the new role and that together you can achieve a lot.This is called ‘rationality’ as it gives the other person a chance to consider a real proposition with its potential benefits and drawbacks for them, and asks them to make a decision within a short time frame.

Additional things that we did not include as options but can also work well are

  • Working with them alongside someone you know they get along well with as a common ally
  • If you are unable to work past your differences you may want to spend your energy elsewhere instead
  • Work out your vision and culture for your new team and envisage how they can contribute to this.