What to do When a Team Member Doesn't Respect Your Authority

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

I had a team member once who had a problem with the way I handled a matter in a team meeting, she felt that I had underplayed the importance of an issue she had raised.

Post meeting, she stood in the middle of the open plan area and started to criticise me in front of the whole floor. I overheard it and immediately called her into my office.

Rule number one: act swiftly, the longer you leave it, the harder it gets to have the conversation. Note also, I called her to my office in front of the whole floor to ensure everyone knows I don’t tolerate that behaviour and to assert my leadership.

I then sat her down and asked her if she had a problem with me and gave her an opportunity to speak.

Rule number two: give staff an opportunity to say their piece and don’t interrupt. Never start the conversation by explaining what they did wrong. If you want to resolve the issue, they must have an opportunity to air their objections.

Having said her piece I asked a few quality questions about how happy she was in the office, with her job, what her challenges were, at which point she burst into tears, she said she felt there was no opportunity for further development, the other members of the team didn’t like her, and she felt others got all the opportunities. She had no idea what she wanted to do career-wise, she was the only one on the floor without a degree, etc., etc.

Rule number three: the problem is rarely the problem, there is almost always something else going on, it takes time and gentle quality questions to get to the bottom of it.

We then had a discussion about career opportunities, I asked her what she felt my role was in her career development, we talked about what she could take control and responsibility for, what could she do that would support her professional development. I spoke openly about her general negativity, how that wasn't helping her career or her relationships with her coworkers, I asked her what she might do differently, better ways of handling her frustrations, always empowering her to come up with the solutions.

Rule number four: employees often absolve themselves of all responsibility for their career development, for the fact that they are standing still, for their harmful and unconstructive behaviour. They act like they are powerless, but that’s far from the truth. Challenge them to own it by asking questions like: what could you do differently that would result in a different outcome, what might you be contributing to the challenge. You’re there to support them, not carry them.

By the end of all this she had calmed down, understood that she needed to take responsibility and action on certain things, and we were chatting openly about the possibilities.

In closing the conversation, I said the following. "Know that under no circumstances will I tolerate anyone publicly bagging any members of this team, whether it's me, or someone else you're talking about. If I hear it, or hear about it, expect to be called out. It’s unprofessional and disrespectful. If you have any concerns about anything I have said or done, I expect you to raise those concerns with me directly, not shout your disapproval out across the floor."

Rule number 5: only lay down the law at the end of the conversation, when you are both on the same page, working together, and you have the team member onside. They won’t listen to you if you do it at the start of the meeting when they are angry, defensive, and all fired up.


Originally published on Quora. Follow me at Step Up to Leadership.

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