Q: I'm the manager of a large department and often feel like I'm the dad dealing with a bunch of kids. They expect everything to be "fair,"...

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Q: I’m the manager of a large department and often feel like I’m the dad dealing with a bunch of kids. They expect everything to be “fair,” constantly fight with each other, and want me to fix their problems. How do I make it clear I’m their manager, not their father?

A: No one tells managers and supervisors, before they get promoted, that they’re going to feel like the parents of their employees. Ironically, making it clear that you’re the boss, not the dad, involves the same skills as effective parenting.

Be aware that most of your employees had less than ideal experiences with their parents. On the other hand, most people desperately hope the boss will be a better “parent” than they had.

With all this psychological baggage, you can see why the job of “authority figure” can be tricky. If you don’t realize why your employees are acting like children around you, you won’t be able to get them to do their jobs.

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Here are some tips:

• When employees have conflicts, don’t get in the middle. Bring both parties into your office and help them talk to each other. If you don’t feel comfortable mediating, hire a mediator. Employees need to learn that they are responsible for working out their conflicts. You are responsible for giving them the tools.

• When employees are reacting to you with intense emotion, realize they may be upset because of experiences they had with their parents. In these situations, the current problem is not the actual issue. Talk little and listen lots. When you find out what the employee is really upset about, solutions will be obvious.

• Set clear boundaries and stick to them. Don’t make side deals or exceptions, or let employees intimidate you into changing the rules. Similar to parenting, the only way to command respect is to be consistent about consequences.

• Make sure employees have lots of information about the future and any changes. Kids get nervous if they don’t know what’s going on, and so do employees.

As frustrating as mentoring employees can be, there are benefits.

Bosses who “parent” well often build lifelong loyalty from former subordinates. These employees may go on to positions of influence and power in your industry — and they won’t forget their “dad.”

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., can be reached at 1420 N.W. Gilman Blvd., No. 2845, Issaquah, WA 98027-7001; by e-mail at interpersonaledge@comcast.net; or at www.interpersonaledge.com. Sorry, no personal replies. To read other Daneen Skube columns, go to: www.seattletimes.com/daneenskube