Discourage employee’s infatuation

Dear Joan:
Help! One of my employees is infatuated with me. I don't want to lose his respect or loyalty but I do want to lose the puppylike attention. How do I discourage this crush and still keep my employee happy?

A sure way to lose his respect is to play along and act as if you were in a social relationship instead of a business one. A good way to lose his loyalty is to misuse your authority and trample on his emotions in the name of your business relationship. Whether or not you can keep him happy is out of your control but you can work at preserving a good working relationship.

The key word here is discourage. The best way to discourage behavior is to ignore it.

Operate on the premise that there is no crush. React as professionally and objectively to him as you would to any other employee. This won't be easy. You probably want to avoid him so as not to encourage any misinterpretation of anything you say or do. Force yourself to interact as normally with this employee as possible.

You may want to dilute this situation with more group meetings rather than one on one meetings. However, if one on one meetings are a natural part of the day, conduct them in a businesslike manner. In other words, give him no room to "read into" anything you say or do.

If he suggests lunch, casually include other people from your work group. If he asks you to join him for a drink after work, make sure you are busy.

If he gushes praise, acknowledge it with a quick smile and thanks but quickly move on to the subject at hand. There is a good chance ignoring him will do the trick. Peer pressure will also begin to surface, as people begin to notice his reaction to you.

You could bruise his ego if you confront him before he has worked it out in his own head. For example, he could become very defensive and embarrassed if you said, "Do you have a crush on me? I really don't want this to continue." He would likely respond, "What are you talking about? You are mistaken." Then both of you would be embarrassed.

If he becomes bolder and displays obvious affection, you will need to discuss the situation openly with him. For example, "Tom, I'm flattered by that remark but you know it isn't appropriate in our relationship. You know I think you're a fine professional and a great colleague but that is where it ends. I'd like us to have a solid relationship that is based on mutual respect, and I wouldn't want anything to get in the way of that."

Be careful here to preserve his self-esteem. Don't judge his feelings or discount them by saying "I’m surprised at you" or "You should stop this childish behavior!" Instead, listen carefully to what he says and allow him to save face and remain safe. For example, "Don't worry about it. This won't have any negative affect on our relationship. Let's just go forward from here. Things like this are inevitable when women and men work together."

I doubt if he would openly continue this behavior after you discussed it. He may even be relieved to have it out in the open. Once it has been discussed, don't treat him with "kid gloves." The best way to overcome the embarrassment both of you feel is to treat him the same way you did before. He may feel more humiliated if he thinks you are tiptoeing around his ego once the subject is out in the open.

You also need to evaluate your own behavior to make sure you haven't been sending any mixed messages. Devotion like this can be very flattering and you need to be certain you haven't been unconsciously encouraging his behavior.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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