The wrong background?

2009

I was recently promoted into a senior role within a technical team. I am the only female within a team of 10. All of my colleagues come from a technical background, whereas my history is in sales.

I know I was appointed for my skills in managing people, but I am constantly reminded that I lack 'technical knowledge' by my so-called colleagues. My difficulty is that I don't want to be a plumber, joiner or other trade. I enjoy managing successful teams, but I am beginning to doubt my people skills with the constant put downs! It is having an effect on how I interact with my peers as I feel my opinions are not valid or relevant.

How do I overcome this without becoming a builder?

Mary, UK

Michelle Brailsford's Answer:

Well Mary, why not try using a technique I call the Balanced response? First, you say something positive about the 'comments' being made by colleagues. For instance, "I can appreciate that its important for you to want my comments, suggestions or remarks to come from a place of expertise".

Then you take a deep breath. You DO NOT say "but". You say "AND". You then present your concern or issue with the 'put down'. 'And my concern is you seem to feel the sales expertise and people management expertise are less important than technical expertise'. Then, shut up! Let your colleague respond.

Either he will say, "oh no! I value what you do! I couldn't manage people like you!!". In which case you have validation.

Or they will say, "Yes, that is correct. I don't view those skills as equally valuable in this business." In which case, I would try to have data at hand that shows that the best performing companies in your industry are this that have both technical excellence and relationship excellence!

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About our Expert

Michelle Brailsford
Michelle Brailsford

Michelle Brailsford is is a founding partner at Jupiter Consulting Group, LLC, a boutique learning & development consultancy dedicated to adding life back into work. She focuses on the people side of her clients' businesses and in particular, organisational politics and personal power.

Older Comments

Well Mary, your attitude towards your colleagues comes across here as pretty condescending ' and not only that, you admit you don't even want to understand what it is they actually do. So I'm not surprised they take a pretty dim view of you.

I wouldn't expect someone with no knowledge of sales ' or empathy with sales people ' to manage a sales team. So why someone with no knowledge of technology or empathy with technical people is managing a technical team, heaven only knows.

Geoff Leicester

While I agree with Geoff that the attitude here is a bit odd 'I don't want to learn a TRADE, I'm a MANAGER' - what's all that about - the rest of what he says is drivel, IMHO.

If Mary's a half-decent manager of people, she'll know that her role is simply to create the conditions under which her technical team can thrive and maximise their contributions to the business - to build an environment in which their individual and collective talent can florish. She needs to insulate them form all the crap that goes on in the organisation and represent their interests to others.

If she's doing this, the jibes will stop. If she isn't, she ought to start - ASAP.

Gemma

Mary needs to find a 'common language' through which she can engage with her all male technical team. If she is not going to be able to meet them on their own territory another tactic needs to be found. Perhaps start one by one building a more personal relationshiop with each. Leave the difficult characters to last. Hopefully by that point the rest of the team will be starting to support her so final resistance will crumble. The problem with a sales background is that often is not respected to the degree that it should be.

Claire London

Of course a manager needs to support her reports. If her reports are plumbers or any other techies for that matter, learning some minimal tech details is necessary for providing the support. Why does Mary not ask her reports what tech info she needs to learn in order for her to make informed decisions and provide support? This certainly does not involve becoming a plumber herself. It DOES involve a genuine interest in the work that her reports do on a daily basis and some commitment to learn anything outside of her comfort zone.

John Basel, Switzerland