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Hill Navigator: Youth Movement

How to put the best face on your interoffice interactions with co-workers at all levels

Roll Call’s Hill Navigator advice column helps staffers with sticky or complicated situations they find themselves in on Capitol Hill. Each week, we take the most interesting submissions from our inbox and answer your concerns. This week: an age-old problem with a recent promotion.

I recently got promoted to a position that requires I manage several of my colleagues, one of whom is older than me. I feel awkward telling her what to do, and I get the impression she isn’t fond of it, either. How do I respect the age difference while also being an effective manager?

A. Congrats! A promotion is a testament to your good work. And with a position of authority, you are in a prime spot to make it in management — your office obviously has faith in your abilities and wants to see you succeed.

But you have a sour grapes co-worker. Maybe she was going out for the position, too, or maybe she resents your age difference as you suspect. Either way, it’s to your advantage to keep her in good working spirits and to her benefit to be a team player.

So here’s how you rock being an effective manager: Assure your co-worker she is important. Make her opinions count and make her work sparkle. Set her up for success, and she’ll do wonders as a teammate. Spend time talking to her about how she thinks you could both make the boss shine.

When she does good work, make sure she gets the credit for it. When you have a chance to brief the boss, include her when appropriate. When you are making a decision, seek her input. When a decision has already been made, ask for her feedback.

People want to feel valued. Even if you couldn’t care less about what she thinks about policy, politics or office management, pretend that you do. You might find that her age and experience are assets, and in any case, you’ll get a cooperative co-worker, which is a win in any office.

The front-desk person in my office is so mean! I understand that she is overwhelmed by nasty callers every day, but it wouldn’t hurt her to say ‘Good morning’ once in a while. The thing that gets me is that the member doesn’t realize it. She’s nice to him but nasty to everyone else! It’s just unfair.

A. I have a soft spot for the front-desk person. It’s one of the hardest, most demanding jobs, with long hours and a very low salary.

Just one thin wall separated you from all the drop-in visitors, angry phone calls and lost tourists looking for the “second floor” of Rayburn (“All the room numbers start with 2. Yes, all of them.”)

Your front-desk person is the office’s first and last line of defense. They have to smile at everyone who walks through the door and treat each rambling complainer with compassion, care and dignity. They should be able to spare a smile and a good morning for their fellow co-workers, but if they don’t, it’s likely less of a personal affront to you and more of a general fatigue from the job.

Also keep in mind that front-desk people tend to be some of the youngest and least experienced staffers. So they might not have the art of office etiquette down yet. But it means there is still hope for them to improve.

I’m not excusing any sort of rudeness; I’m just trying to offer a better perspective on it. But here is what you can do: Be as nice as possible. Say “Good morning” first. Learn her story; ask how her weekend went. Compliment her on something — whether it’s a job well done after a tough day or her new cardigan. Find out when her birthday is and get her a Starbucks card. Be creative, and lead by example. You never know — you might be the only nice voice she hears all day.

Got a question, concern or complaint about navigating life on Capitol Hill? Email us at hillnavigator@rollcall.com or submit online at roll.cl/12tvZqI. All submissions are treated anonymously.

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