How to Deal With a Subordinate Who Undermines Your Authority

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One of the more challenging aspects of management is dealing with employees who sabotage teamwork by undermining your authority. Whether the person is doing it intentionally or is unaware of the effect he is having, his behavior can ripple through a department and cause problems for everyone. Managers need to confront employees who undermine their authority and redirect their behaviors so that the workplace environment is a healthy and productive one for all.

Set up a formal meeting with the employee. Arrange to have the meeting somewhere private where there are few distractions. A private office or meeting room works well, especially if you can sit at the same side of the desk with your employee. Explain why you are meeting and give specific examples of behavior. Avoid general accusations without details to support them.

Question the employee to try to find the source of the behavior that undermines your authority. Try to discover why the person acts as she does, whether it be a lack of respect, a desire to be funny, jealousy or a sincere disagreement with your management choices or style. Avoid being defensive and listen actively to your employee's responses.

Explain clearly what the offending behavior is and that it must stop. Give examples that you have witnessed and avoid hearsay whenever possible. Describe how this behavior undermines your authority, and the effect that it has on the rest of the team and the work that everyone is trying to accomplish. Give specific instruction on the sort of behavior you expect to see in the future. Be clear about the consequences that will follow if the behavior does not change.

Ask for a response or feedback. Be prepared for the employee to be defensive or to respond emotionally. Discover through active listening and questioning whether or not the employee understands what the problem is and whether he is prepared to change. Secure his commitment to change the behavior.

Follow up with the employee after the meeting and take necessary steps if the behavior does not change. Provide immediate and specific feedback when a behavior resurfaces that is inappropriate. If the employee seems unable or unwilling to change, proceed with additional discipline.

Tips & Warnings

  • While formal coaching may help to resolve the problem of an employee who undermines your authority, sometimes more severe action is necessary. You may have to transfer an employee to a different department or terminate her.

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