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Subordinate or Subservient?

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen 

Some time ago, I wrote about being professional in the workplace, and that I got to know a worker at a big box store. He will be called Aaron from now on. Aaron sent me a telegram the other day, so I saddled up and rode into his town so we could talk about the item of concern.

He had the day off so we met at an eatery for a leisurely lunch. While having coffee, he described the situation. Aaron's place of employment has a prairie schooner-full of folks in supervisory roles. While not all are necessarily his supervisors, they have superior roles and can give orders.

Superior and subordinate are functional facts of life. But supervisors should not treat employees as subservient. If nothing else it harms business.
Businessman, Pixabay / Goumbik
There is a chain of command, as expected. One person is second in authority to the store manager, and was giving instructions at a store meeting. (You've probably seen meetings like this in various stores where employees are gathered for a few minutes in a large opening.) At the very end, "Chop! Chop!" was uttered. Aaron seems to be level-headed and not one of those folks that looks for an excuse to be offended, but this really bothered him.

People don't like it when others talk down to them, and it has a stronger negative effect when done by those in authority.

Let's ride off on a side trail for a spell. I need to say that people in management are human too. They have personalities, emotions, idiosyncrasies, pressures, and all that good stuff. Supervisors need to satisfy their supervisors. Some do not communicate well. Also, there are those who insist on "going by the book," but that is often not possible, so they should adapt. Employees should keep the humanity of others in positions of authority in mind.

Okay, back on the main trail. Listening to subordinates is supposed to be emphasized in many businesses, but they often seem to simply wait for the employee to stop talking before telling them how wrong they are. Listening should include a willingness to actually hear what is being said — and not being too proud to learn from an underling. True listening is not just in the business world, it's something seriously lacking among people in general. Bonus: Listening also means not just waiting for a chance to say your own piece or even talking over someone.

I was working with a handheld device at Universal Widgets, and I wanted to show my supervisor one of its crashes and how I deal with it. Instead of listening, she cut me off and tried to answer the question I was not even asking! I was trying to give a tip, but that didn't happen.

Many supervisors have an attitude of wanting to impress people and are fond of their authority, acting like Bonnie or Barney Fife and cracking the proverbial whip. Saying, "Chop! Chop!" is quite demeaning (some could consider it racist, but that's a stretch). But now we are coming to some important points, and why Aaron was so bothered by it.

It is a fact of life in the business world that there are superiors and subordinates. Same for the military. It does not mean that someone is an inferior person by any means, it helps organizations function. For that matter, I have said "sir" or "ma'am" to supervisors as a means of showing respect even though they do not ask for such wording. (Besides, it doesn't cost me anything.) Supervisors should show respect to their subordinates, which includes listening, and not treating them as if they are subservient.

Being a venomous snake wrangler at Universal Widgets, I've had many things that offend me. However, there is no reason to get on the prod over most of those. One time I gave a "Howdy!" to a woman in a supervisory role. She did not reply... a line from "Games Without Frontiers" by Peter Gabriel applies: "If looks could kill, they probably will..." It would have killed the snakes. Top three death stares that I had to live with. I was given a death stare by someone even higher up than this one, but it was done in jest. Fortunately, I am blessed very good people to whom I am accountable.

Why do people react to being on the receiving end of a stare in general? It was suggested that staring dehumanizes. That seems like an excellent possibility.

Degrading employees leads to negative consequences, and treating them as subservient is a part of it. Unfortunately, supervisors can do that unintentionally. When I asked Aaron if that boss under discussion was being hurtful on purpose, he did not believe that was the intention. Also, people can be hypersensitive and be "offended" when there is no good reason. Some say "Chop! Chop!" and other things in a humorous way.

Christians have an advantage because we have admonitions on how to treat people. Sure, we all need to learn finer points and make adjustments. People should treat each other with basic human dignity and respect because we are all bearing the image of our Creator. Additional respect must be earned of course, but respect for someone's office (position) must be given as well.

If those points don't motivate supervisors to treat people properly, one should think about what's in it for you (far to many people live in this manner anyway.) When employees are degraded and dehumanized, that encounter is on their minds. Productivity can suffer, mistakes can be made. They are subordinates, do not treat them like they were subservient. Business doesn't suffer because of employees being degraded, and it could have been avoided. You savvy?