Have you ever taken in a role that was previously fulfilled by someone who had done a great job, been really popular, or worse still, both?
Perhaps the others in the organisation didn’t want that person to leave and weren’t too open to you as the new post holder.
It can be a daunting task, not helped when colleagues and friends remind you that you have big shoes to fill.
My own experience of this was when I got a job within a small team at the British Embassy in Bangkok. For the first time in my life I was met with cold shoulders by most of the team and I found it uncomfortable.
Not only had they been sad to lose the outgoing officer, but the person who had been her deputy, now mine, had applied for the job and clearly been unsuccessful. Not my fault of course. I applied for the job and been offered it without knowing anything about the internal situation, yet somehow I was blamed.
The team constantly reminded me that ‘this isn’t how Carol used to do it’ and would be less than friendly when I asked them to do something for me (within their job remit). If it hadn’t been so uncomfortable, the situation would almost have been laughable.
I thought long and hard about how to deal with this. I decided that I wasn’t going to try to do things ‘Carol’s way’, or to be like her, or to fill her shoes, lovely though I’m sure she was. I decided that I was going to carry on being me, to do things my way (without making any major changes immediately). I was going to wear my own shoes.
I continued to enter the office with a cheery ‘Good morning’ despite being met with stony silence. I continued to ask them nicely to do the things they were there to do and I thanked them when they had done them.
It was tough going for a few weeks until they gradually came round to accepting me.
My advice to you is to wear your own shoes in any new role. You don’t need to fill someone else’s. That doesn’t necessarily mean doing things differently for the sake of it. It’s important to acknowledge what’s gone before and even to acknowledge that you know that they’re big shoes to fill, which is why you’re not going to attempt to do so.
Most people prefer to be warm and friendly than rude or negative so they will be glad of an opportunity to go back to that.
Remind yourself any negativity is not really about you. It’s a reaction to the loss of the other person and/or to the change. As human beings we don’t always handle change well. We become attached to the status quo, so perhaps introduce any big changes gradually.
Before you know it, they will become as used to you as to a pair of old slippers.
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