I run a small service company with about 12 people based in East Asia. I have been working with a subordinate for almost 3 years who started off fairly young (at 25) at our company. She is quite intelligent in terms of picking things up quickly and closely shares my (and the company’s) core values (learning especially), however suffers from poor EQ and often has difficulty getting along with people.

Having said that, we built a great working relationship. I mentored and coached her on a lot of areas and guided her on a path of personal development and helped her acquire a lot of positive habits. I spent more time coaching her than any other employee in the company. On her part, she always gave her best to the company, worked really hard and I could count on her to always defend the company and me when I was not present. We were also each other’s accountability partners in acquiring an important habit.

However, from time to time, she can be very abrasive and rude and due to this she has had a lot of arguments with vendors, colleagues and me. She realizes this and tries very hard to work on this. But it keeps happening. Also, every time she has had such an issue with me, she would normally complain to a colleague (who gets on equally well with both of us but at the same time is also a “competitor” to her in terms of future opportunities in the company). This creates even more misunderstanding, as messages can be lost or selectively passed on. I have asked her to discuss any issue with me directly several times, but she simply does not have the maturity to do it (It could be also a cultural thing as direct communication is not really common in this part of the world).

We recently had a minor argument over messenger. It was a very small issue, and I asked her a simple question, doing my job as her manager, and her reaction was quite rude and abrasive, perhaps because she had been very busy recently. I sort of let it go in the moment and avoided it from becoming a major argument. However, that was enough for her to go to the colleague mentioned above and complain about a lot of issues, including stating she thought she was underpaid etc.

After far too many messenger arguments over the years, I have learnt it is best to jump on the phone in such situations when tempers are calmer and talk directly. This has worked well with her in the past. I waited a week and then we had a long call where she said she feels no motivation for the job, complained about her salary and I told her my side of the story. (Side Note: Her salary has increased 50%+ over the 2 increments she has had in the company from her starting salary). Towards the end of the call, out of nowhere she said “I don't trust you and I think you don't trust me either (I told her “this was not true at all” - The fact is she is the most trusted person for me in the company). She then said, she doesn't trust anyone and she is a very cold person and its best if we strictly talk about work stuff from now so we can at least maintain working communication”. I was stunned by this because this was shocking even for her levels.

I feel extremely hurt by this because personally I had invested so much time and effort, grooming her, mentoring her and I genuinely cared for her. She has also been generally grateful for this and has reciprocated by working hard but also by mentioning it to me that she appreciated it all. This made me feel that all that hard work is undone. I simply feel that after someone says something like this, it is impossible to work with them.

Thinking about the enormous stress that dealing with her causes me every few months due to similar incidents, and the fact that she wants to leave and I have to work very hard each year to retain her, I believe it is best for me to let her go. At the end of her year 1 and 2, she wanted to leave but I managed to retain her but I feel it might be best for her and me to let her go this time. This is disappointing as I had big plans for her which would have significantly accelerated her career growth as in the future, I have been looking to step aside and give her a bigger role in running the company. But she wasn’t even willing to hear me out. She officially hasn’t resigned yet but she said she is thinking about it but want’s to give me plenty of notice, not just the standard 1 month.

The URGE! To tell her exactly how I feel is extremely strong for me. To tell her all I have done for her and how hurt I felt by the things she said. But I feel that is the wrong approach. So, my question is, how do I handle this from here, so that I can let her go but don’t necessarily lose the relationship. I am now keen to be the first one to let her know that she can hand in her resignation anytime she feels comfortable. I would also need her support to do a proper handover as she is a key employee. I personally feel really sad that someone I have spent so much time building a strong bond with, could say something as sharp as that and change like this. I also feel, the colleague through whom she has been communicating, may have contributed to the misunderstanding and the erosion of trust. Unfortunately, I cannot talk to her face to face because I am stuck in another country due to COVID travel restrictions (for over a year! Which has made it hard to maintain the relationship at the same level).


bdhaas's picture
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It sounds like your report is tearing down the team.  When she says that there is no longer any trust and acts that way, there is no relationship to salvage on her side.  You may feel differently, but you can't change her.  She also stated that she has no motivation for the job, that is going to hinder her performance.


Having a temper that she cannot keep under control is unprofessional.  If you have been working with her to make it better, and no improvements are being made, that is a bad sign.  Also, with constant complaints about salary despite good raises, it only further shows unprofessionalism and more discontent.


If she wants to leave, I think that you should let her.  You want to have someone on your team that wants to be there, and she does not want to be there and is showing you that in multiple ways.  I know that you have invested a lot, but you are starting to deal with the Sunk Cost Fallacy and it would be better to find someone else.  

leaderintraining's picture

Thanks. That is very true and we are on the same page that it is best to let her go. Where I would love to have some advice is on this part of the process "So, my question is, how do I handle this from here, so that I can let her go but don’t necessarily lose the relationship.", i.e. managing the transition in such a way that I can salvage the relationship. Any advice here would be super useful.

bdhaas's picture
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When she said “I don't trust you and I think you don't trust me either," that is a pretty strong indication that there may not be a relationship there to salvage.  After she leaves, I would doubt that she would want to get back in touch with someone that she feels no trust with.


You can always emphasize to her that you are open to further communication.  This will leave it to her to get in touch with you, and that is completely up to her (and there is nothing that you can do to change that or force the relationship to remain open).




leaderintraining's picture

Thanks for that. I see your point there and it sounds like a reasonable approach.