Town Talk Features

The Velvet Hammer: 2.26.20

I recently joined a high-powered, highly competitive firm and find my new co-workers less than welcoming. Although I realize they may be uncomfortable because I am older with more than 10 years of experience in the business, I’d like to be thought of as a member of the team. Anything I can do?

Your new peers may feel threatened by you as someone they consider to have a head-start to compete with promotions or even take their jobs. I would try to put them at ease by showing them that you are the kind of colleague they can collaborate with and trust.

First, create as much common ground as possible by understanding their roles and identifying contacts or interests you may have in common, but do this in a way that seems natural. Be an active listener and show interest in their views, asking questions about their work and what they enjoy about their jobs. Share something about yourself but limit your initial conversations to roughly 30% about yourself; devote the remaining 70% to listening. If co-workers feel you have more experience or perhaps you are overly qualified for the job, address the elephant in the room. Make a compelling case as to why you applied for the job, such as your admiration for the company’s culture or your need for different hours or reduced travel to attend to family needs. Show them that you don’t want their job, but don’t overdo it. Winning over new workers takes time, consistency and thoughtfulness.

On behalf of employees who work for bosses who are unwilling to let them question, challenge or even suggest alternatives to their directives, could you provide them some thoughts on how to recognize their negativity and take a look in the mirror?

They call this kind of manager a ‘tornado’ boss who not only discourages innovation, but also is locked in his or her respective ivory tower where only their viewpoint reigns supreme. They tend to push forward regardless of what members of their team say and, in many cases, foster a culture of intimidation.

For those bosses who are wondering if they’re becoming a tornado or are already in the eye of the storm, here are a few thoughts for consideration: If you notice your employees seem afraid to fail or take risks, take an honest look at your interactions.
• Do you tend to dominate meeting discussions?
• Do you interrupt others when they are talking?
• Do you raise your voice during disagreements?

If you want to create a collaborative culture and healthy environment for your workforce, give colleagues the opportunity to freely exchange ideas without repercussions. In fact, pay even more attention to those employees who challenge your ideas or suggest changes. Finally, think of ways to demonstrate that you truly value their feedback.

Joan Lee Berkman is a marketing and public relations consultant. If you have a question for Joan, send it to

Photo: Colin Miller of Strauss Peyton Photography