How Do I Move Past The Past?


How do you manage an employee with whom you have had negative interactions with in the past (when you were colleagues) who is now being transferred to your team and will be taking direction from you. This person has confided that they have experienced workplace discrimination in the past and I don't want my personal feelings toward this person to impact how I treat them as a manager.


This is one of those questions requiring a nuanced response because most organizations no longer invest in management training, leaving the employee responsible for developing such knowledge and skills. I'm going to break this down into a few domains/roles: past (colleagues), present (transfer), and future (manager).

Use the past relationship as an opportunity to gather data and learn. Take time to evaluate those engagements and identify your contribution to whatever tension existed between you as peers. This is NOT an exercise in martyrdom or reopening old wounds just for the sake of it but rather an opportunity for you to revisit who you were then to determine if whatever issues you had are still hovering below the surface or if they are part of the past. Suppose you determine that the past remains an issue; in that case, you have some additional work to do, which includes developing strategies that enable you, as the person in the position of relative privilege and tasked with managing the roles and responsibilities of others, to prioritize the most vulnerable and that minimize harm. 

*Caveat: I want to make sure since I am not privy to the details of the "negative interactions," that it is clear that I am in no way stating that being tasked with managing the roles and responsibilities of others in any way requires you to place yourself or others in harm's way. So if whatever transpired between you might, in any way, cause harm, then this is something that should be shared with other members of the leadership team if those interactions, in any way, were abusive or if you don't feel supported or safe, I would have the plan to cross all the t's and dot all the i's related to HR practices and documentation.

If you've determined that whatever issues you two had can remain in the past, I'd welcome this person onto the team as you would anyone else. I'd take some time to let them settle in, to get a lay of the land, to get a "feel" of your management style, and after about a month, during one of your check-ins, I'd try to have the hard conversation to determine how they may be feeling regarding the past issues to gauge if they're holding onto any past resentment. 

This isn't about pointing fingers or attempting to assign blame. It's an uncomfortable but necessary conversation to establish a new professional dynamic. I wouldn't ask direct questions about the past because you're trying to get to a new starting point: a redo. Hell, people change, and shit that was important to you 5 years ago may no longer hold as much weight or importance today. You want to check in early and often because doing so will provide the data you need to help this individual develop the connections they need to feel welcome and psychologically safe when joining your team. Also, having this conversation allows you both to clear the air. It minimizes the chances that past "hurts" could hinder your ability to effectively and efficiently manage this individual or blow up present and future opportunities for team and organizational success.

Submitter Demographic Information

What role are you in?: Management? [Operationalizes vision/mission/core values]

What business sector are you in?: Information

Organization Size: Above 10K

Is Your Organization...: Remote

Which 1 of the following domains does your question belong?: Retaining

Retaining Domain Areas: Leadership and Management

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