Help me be more authoritative at work
April 7, 2011 6:40 PM   Subscribe

How can I be more authoritative? Is it ok not to enforce all rules?

In personality, I come across as affable but timid and shy. I'm a "softie" when dealing with others if I am in a position where I need to be authoritative. (classic INFP if that's helpful). I am in my early 30's but look younger due to my features, dress, (no heels or suits) and lack of makeup. But the main issue is my personality I think.

Currently I work as a coordinator for an academic language program. Part of my job duities are to collect students assignments which I do not grade. I don't know how to get assignments frolm students who don't hand them in besides asking. There isn't anyone else checking the assignments at this time.

Also, the program's director told the students they need to speak in-language at all times when in the office and on program excusrions (myself and sudents are American; we are in another country, and the director is from country we are in).

We all speak the language decently, but sometimes I feel it hinders communication for me to speak to them in it. Also, the director doesn't really enforce the language pledge at all. I always feel awkward about the situation and wish we didn't have a pledge at all if it's not going to get enforced; at the same time I feel an obligation to uphold the rule; should I?

I hope my question makes sense. In general I am looking for tips about being more autoritative and specifically, I tried to explain my situation for more background info. THanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sure it's your job to obtain assignments? I mean isn't it your job to accept assignments that students submit? If they don't submit them, then they're adults (I assume) and there are presumably consequences (late penalties etc.). Take assignments when students bring them in and if they're late, indicate the date they were submitted. Don't apologize or offer explanations. Students who don't hand things in or who hand things in after they are no longer accepted will get 0s. I can't imagine that it's your job to nag adults about handing in their homework.

Speak in language unless it's clear that there's a misunderstanding going on. I'm not sure I understand how you think the director would enforce this policy. Would you really prefer to have the director scolding people for what language they speak?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:01 PM on April 7, 2011

How long have you been working there? If you've only recently started, i think it would be appropriate for you to ask the director for some advice. You're not one of the students. You can just ask him privately, sometime, if you can drop the language requirement when communication is really a struggle. He'll help clarify what is expected of you, and how you think of the rule. He may say, "Sometimes, I'm lax about it, but it'll really be important for you to keep it up." Or maybe he'll say, "Eh, it's really important to at least start out that way, but I think it's fine to cut them some slack if they're really struggling." Or maybe he'll say, "It's up to you." It's okay for you to ask for clarification about your job. Unless you're the one in charge of the program, I can only imagine it'd be appropriate for you to clarify how the rules students have to follow relate to your job.

The assignment checking is a little unclear. Why does no one else check these assignments, if you're not the one who grades them? Does no one grade them? What's wrong with asking for the students to turn them in? Clarification about this could help.
posted by meese at 7:01 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd speak in the language they want you to use. I am teaching abroad and apparently it's in my contract to always speak English, but I let kids ask me what a word in their native language means. The idea, though, is to get them to practice as much as possible, and that seems like it might be your program's goal as well. Total immersion is definitely a worthy goal for a language-learning program, but I sympathize as I know first-hand how difficult it is to get a bunch of kids who all speak the same language to speak another, foreign language. At my school we implement a system where the amount of English they speak in class directly influences their final grade. Is there a consequence/reward you can set up? I've heard of ideas like everyone who speaks English has to put a quarter in a jar, and then the money is used to buy pizza/other treat once the jar is full.

As far as handing in homework, you can't force them to do their work. Asking for it is all you need to do; I assume that if they don't turn it in, they have a consequence, like a bad grade. Make sure to apply the consequence and have a talk with them to see what's going on if they repeatedly miss assignments.

I wouldn't worry too much about trying to intimidate them or appear more authoritative. Keep your personality, be nice and friendly, but make sure they have consequences for their actions.
posted by queens86 at 7:05 PM on April 7, 2011

I think you're in a tough position. From your description it doesn't seem like you have any specific authority over the students and therefore, exerting authority might be not your best course of action. If the program director or some other staff member is the one assigning and grading work, ultimately the power lies with them, not with you.

What you CAN do, if you feel like you're being treated as a doormat: tell the students "I will not make excuses for your late/non-existent assignments." or: "I will not bend the rules for you." or: "I cannot accept that assignment past the due date." As a type of gatekeeper it is totally within your realm to make these pronouncements.

Regarding the in-country language requirement, I am not even sure that's an issue. What's the problem -- the students aren't able to formulate a believable excuse to you in the language they are learning? NOT. YOUR. PROBLEM. Follow the program director's guidelines for speaking the language as best as you can, but don't give the student a pass just because of the language barrier that they are supposed to be overcoming with study in that language.
posted by contessa at 7:08 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah collecting homework is something you should ask the program director about. It sounds like this is a college-level program. It's not your job to intimidate the students into turning in their homework. Make sure they all know when the assignments are due and where to hand them in. If you've done that, they have everything they need. If they aren't able to follow those instructions, that's your problem. Since you don't grade the homework, you shouldn't be responsible for excuses either, so if students have an excuse for handing it in late, just write that down (or have the student write a note) and give it to the instructor or grader to deal with as they see fit. If they don't hand the work in at all, their grade will suffer as a result and that's their problem, not yours. If the students have a problem with that, they need to talk to their instructor, and if the program director has a problem with it, she needs to tell you specifically what you should be doing differently.

In general, given the nature of your job, you can always fall back on orders from a higher authority when you need to be more assertive. Instead of "I can't accept this assignment because it is late," you could say "[Program director] doesn't accept any assignments after the due date unless you get an extension from her first" (or whatever the policy is). "Sorry, that's not my decision to make" works too. This puts the focus on the program's policies and away from you. Certainly you don't have to "enforce all rules," but you need to know the context of the rules and the program to know what you need to enforce. That's what your director can give you more guidance on.
posted by zachlipton at 8:24 PM on April 7, 2011

I can't really comment on the specifics of your question or whether you really need to exert your authority in the case you mention, but I just wanted to address the "general tips on being more authoritative" part of your question - I am a classic female INFP too, and I come across as extremely soft if I'm not careful, and I'm a teacher so I really can't afford to. When I need to ramp up my authority a little more here is what I do: I think of a young female fictional character I particularly like who takes absolutely no nonsense from anyone and, just for as long as I need to, I imagine I'm her. As someone who has a pretty tenuous grasp on reality anyway, this comes all too easily to me, and as an INFP I don't imagine you'd find it too much of a challenge either. So, whether in this set of circumstances or another in the future, when you do need to be a little more authoritative, give that a go!
posted by raspberry-ripple at 1:36 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

You need information from your director about all of this except your fear that you're too soft and even then, you could get feedback about whether the director feels your way of working is effective enough for your position.

From what you've described, I can't see why you would need to come across as more authoritative. Your role is not to force anyone to do anything, but collect assignments. If you're too authoritative, it will be a disservice to you by creating poor relationships with the students.

Perhaps you just feel soft and that's more a self esteem thing than anything - there's nothing wrong with not being domineering - in fact, simply being nice is a much overlooked thing.
posted by mleigh at 2:03 AM on April 8, 2011

Great advice above about the assignments, but I'll add this about the English-speaking: when students aren't speaking English, don't confront them or point a finger. Just say, to no one in particular, "English!" Say it just the tiniest bit louder than your conversational voice. Turn away from the people if you have to. You're not correcting them, you're just throwing it out there that, hey, this is a rule, you probably forgot, no big deal -- but don't say that part. Just "English!" and then you're done, back to whatever work you were doing.
posted by Etrigan at 5:24 AM on April 8, 2011

nthing - you sound like you're just the collector for assignments - I wouldn't say a word to or about those who don't turn them in.

I read it as you're in a country that doesn't use English, so I would simply, if it means anything to you, always speak the native language. Even if they speak to you in English, reply in the native language. I think it's reasonable to switch to English if you're not understanding each other.

But then, I've gotten almost nutty lately, having spent half my life trying to make others "do right," about "I'll do my part correctly and not worry about anyone else." YMMV.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:47 AM on April 8, 2011

It's much easier to start off as a hard-ass and then soften up than it is to start off easy-going and then try to enforce unpopular things. You need the policies in writing, and you need everyone to have a copy of them.

I'd avoid the "director says you have to..." gambit. It's less confrontative to pass the buck like that, and it seems easier, but in the long run it's not. You're undermining your own authority that way. You open yourself to "yeah, but he'll never know" or "but he himself doesn't..." arguments. If your job is to enforce the rules, then enforce the rules, politely. Just a simple reminder, "hey guys, you need to speak the language in here." Don't waffle with the whole "I could get into trouble if I let you..." or "I know it's stupid, but..." stuff.

Once your reputation is established as having certain standards, you can then on an occasional basis, sometimes intentionally overlook something. It's kind of an art to pretend to not notice something, while still letting the person know you DID notice, and that you're cutting them some slack but don't want it to become a habit.
posted by ctmf at 8:44 AM on April 8, 2011

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