#057: Why You Must Confront Seemingly Indispensable but Disrespectful Team Members [Podcast]

As a leader, what do you do when you have an employee or a colleague who disrespects you in front of your team? What do you do when this employee is a top performer and one of your supervisor’s favorites?


Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/RBFried

Confronting these people is never easy. However, it is essential if you are going to create a healthy organizational culture that drives the results you want.

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Here are five actions you must take if you are going to retain credibility with your team and move your organization forward.

  • Action #1: Get clear in your own thinking.
  • Action #2: Count the cost.
  • Action #3: Secure your supervisor’s support.
  • Action #4: Confront the disrespectful employee.
  • Action #5: Give him some time to think about it.

This is the tough stuff of leadership that no one wants to discuss. But it is the necessary stuff. You can’t develop people and take them to the next level unless you are willing to speak into their lives—for their benefit and for your team.

Listener Questions

  1. Christy Tennant Krispin asked, “How do you work in a situation where something might be disrespectful in one culture but not in another?”
  2. Joe Consford asked, “How do you deal with a co-worker who is being disrespectful, but the team leader is unaware of it?”
  3. Kwin Peterson asked, “Why do these kinds of conversations intimidate me so much?”
  4. Michael Moak asked, “How do you deal with disrespectful team members when they are related to the boss or they are older than you?”
  5. Tom Skilling asked, “How do you confront disrespectful team members when they are volunteers?”

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Episode Resources

In this episode I mentioned several resources, including:

Show Transcript

You can download a complete, word-for-word transcript of this episode here, courtesy of Ginger Schell, a professional transcriptionist, who handles all my transcription needs.

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Question: How have you handled situations like this? What have you done? More importantly, what will you do the next time it happens? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Peter G

    Looking forward to the sequel “Why you must not confront seemingly disrespectful but dispensable commenters.”

  • C.H. Dyer

    Hard part of this is when someone is a top performer and you are tempted to let the disrespect to slide because they are bringing in the high numbers. However, I have found you have to let them go, otherwise they challenge the culture and can even change the culture you have worked to build.

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      It certainly is tricky situation to navigate. I completely agree with you that it needs to be addressed in some way or form. When I’ve confronted such toxic personalities it has gone both ways – some individuals were just having a bad day, while another individual had dysfunction encoded within their DNA and the situation had to escalate. That “bad apple” ultimately left the organization but it was painful in the interim.

  • http://www.davebratcher.com/ Dave Bratcher

    As I am reading the transcript, I think back to your previous post where you interviewed Dave Ramsey. One of the principles he implemented was a “No Gossip” policy within his entire team. As he describes it, this is something which is self policing among employees. I can see where this will help with those who are disrespectful as well. It seems this could apply to the household, and how we treat our spouse. Do you see similarities?

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      Dave, I completely agree that both Michael’s and Dave Ramsey’s recommendations apply to any relationship we have both in the workplace and on the home front.

      I read a great book titled “Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson that specifically addresses issues on the job, but the recommendations easily transfer to personal relationships as well.

      • http://JonDHarrison.com/ Jonathan Harrison

        Crucial Conversations is a life changing book, with amazing application to the marriage relationship!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I absolutely see similarities. I wrote about this in a post called “Why Speaking Well of Your Spouse Is So Important.”

  • Chris Russo

    Is there any wisdom that you could offer if that team member happens to be older than you? Seems to make it that much more awkward.

    • Kevin Riley

      Most of my team is older than me. I have learned to approach them when they are alone, acknowledge that they have a great deal of experience and knowledge – and ask them how they would go about handling the situation. Let them talk it through – usually they start with why they are right, and as you just listen, they eventually come to be sympathetic to your position. Then you can ask them to discuss how we can be successful together.

      • http://JonDHarrison.com/ Jonathan Harrison

        Kevin, that is a million dollar question: “How would you handle this if you were in my shoes?”

        • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

          Kevin and Jon – those are great examples! Awesome advice gents!!!

  • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

    I’m not in a traditional leadership position. My biggest challenge is dealing with an eight-year old. And an occasional disrespectful college student at work.

    • http://www.joyjoyg.com/ Joy Groblebe

      Dan…I feel ya on the 8 year old….and a 10 year old…and a 4 year old…and a 2 year old… :)

      • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

        I hope you’re not a single parent. I’d go crazy. One’s enough for me. Mothers’ strength never ceases to amaze me.

        • http://www.joyjoyg.com/ Joy Groblebe

          Oh no…I’ve got the amazing @travisg2 onboard. Definitely takes two!

          • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

            Totally agree Joy! When my wife and I had just the two girls, it was easier to play “man-to-man” defense…. now with our third it’s definitely a “zone defense” – regardless it absolutely takes two!

      • Charly Priest

        My case since I´m not in a leadership position is to deal with what some call 2 dogs, I call them two annoying monsters from hell, that are constantly giving me a headache.(I´m thinking about throwing myself out the 2 floor window, and I´m 30) So Mrs. Joy I don´t know if to congratulate you on having 4 kids or just say a prayer for you.

  • http://www.toodarnhappy.com/ Kim Hall

    Great, great, solid advice and information, Michael. Very few folks like confrontation, but it is necessary to build a healthy workplace.

    I have left organizations and have seen other valuable, quality employees leave as well because a company refused to deal with—whatever the reason—poisonous personalities. The message was crystal clear: We are condoning their behavior with our inaction, so quit complaining and get used to being abused (verbally, emotionally, carrying their weight, etc).

    I cannot state vehemently enough the damage one or more bad apples does to a team. If I am in control, I will speak to them and go through your steps, even though it is while secretly quaking in my boots. If not, I will go to the person in charge, being as factual as I can. If there is no action from them, it is time to plan my exit.

    Regarding Michael Moak’s question about family businesses: Oh, that just adds another layer of difficulty and emotion to the mix. :-( Your advice was spot on: deal with it and be prepared with an exit strategy.

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      Agreed Kim, we spend too much of our time and talent on the job to subject ourselves to a constant barrage of abuse. The exit strategy is key and realizing that no job or paycheck is worth the willful submission to mental, emotional or verbal assault.

  • http://JonDHarrison.com/ Jonathan Harrison

    Ah, the dreadful Executive Email Evisceration. I see this happen all too often, and at levels in organizations that one would hope the individual would know better.
    I guess they need to see your post on email etiquette. http://michaelhyatt.com/e-mail-etiquette-101.html

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      Great comment Jon and thanks for the reminder about the email etiquette post – I’ll go check that out as a refresher…

      • http://JonDHarrison.com/ Jonathan Harrison

        I hope you don’t mind me taking my alliteration elsewhere. Because, well…you know : )

        • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

          I didn’t want to say anything but I was a little jealous….

  • http://www.kenzimmermanjr.com/ Ken Zimmerman Jr.

    We tend to focus on the negative of these confrontations but I have seen a lot of positive results as well. One of my best employees had allowed a root of bitterness to grow into his life. He was headed for a divorce and he was no longer a superstar at work based on his attitude. After I called him on it and it got pretty serious, he made amends with his wife, dealt with the bitterness and is one of our top performers today. If we had not confronted him, he says he would be divorced and at another employer. It does not happen with everyone but it has helped several people.

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      Kudos Ken for your proactive engagement to not only help your employee save their job – but his marriage as well.

      Your comment confirms something I’ve long suspected that even though we can compartmentalize aspects of our life – to contain interference, confusion and bad news from leaching into other areas – there are limits to that tactic.

      • http://www.kenzimmermanjr.com/ Ken Zimmerman Jr.

        Tor, I couldn’t agree more. The root spreads. Take care.

  • Kwin Peterson

    Thanks for taking my question and providing that outside perspective, Michael. As with so many things, a change of mindset and point of view can really change a problem.

    • http://JonDHarrison.com/ Jonathan Harrison

      Kwin, you asked a great question which also hit home for me personally. I realized that I did not have any good examples for how to deal with it, and I was assuming the worst possible outcomes before even engaging in the conversation.

      After learning some good frameworks, working on my expectations of the outcome of the conversation, and (sigh) practice – I feel a greater sense of efficacy and a lot less nerves (and feeling like I am going to throw up).

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I get that. I need an outside perspective often!

  • Rick A – Columbus

    Timing is amazing, I chose a more direct approach, I just returned from a meeting with the team over this very thing. First thing I did was affirm everyone on the team their unique and important contributions. Second I realized what I as a leader might have done to contribute to the conflict, and then affirmed them again saying “because you are important to me personally and to the organization I can’t let this moment pass without us clearing the air or apologizing…” which went very well. You are the leader and own it!!

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      Wow – that’s a great example of dealing and defusing with a bad situation. Expert-Level-5-Leadership Kudos to you Rick!!!

  • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

    This is such a critically important topic since team interaction is inescapable in virtually every organization. I really appreciated the example you provided when you missed your number and you “leaned in” to the negative, public email your boss shared with your direct reports. Very useful!

  • Tom Vanderbilt

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    Last October, I lost TWO key people at my church. Both of them were disrespectful and yet key leaders in the church where I pastor. I have questioned whether or not I took proper actions for the past 8 months.

    Listening to your podcast this morning taught me two things. First, disrespect is not to be tolerated and must be confronted. This led to one of the key leaders resigning.

    Second, that confrontation can be a good thing because it is necessary. The fact that I, a pastor, confronted the disrespect of a key volunteer led him and his family to leave the church.

    While I didn’t follow your advice to a “T,” I did 4 out of the 5 steps you recommend. I’ve received a lot of forgiveness through your words today.

    Thanks again, Michael!

    • http://toomanymeds.com/ Alex Barker

      Way to master an extremely difficult task Tom!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Awesome testimony. Thanks, Tom.

  • http://toomanymeds.com/ Alex Barker

    I’ve been on the receiving end of these discussions. In high school, I had an awful attitude at my job (restaurant cook). My manager scolded me many times.
    Now that I oversee students, I really appreciate this framework for unmotivated students Michael!

    Does anybody have any ideas on how to motivate unmotivated students? This is a constant struggle for me. I try to bring out what interests them, but this “pep” talk usually only lasts one week.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Alex, that’s awesome that you’ve realized the issues you had and have corrected them as you’ve grown older.

      Unfortunately, with young people it’s a constant struggle to get them motivated. For them, things change so quickly it’s hard to know what’s going to motivate them today. Just watch them and see what brings them alive.

      • http://www.alexbarker.org/ Alex Barker

        Thanks Joe! It’s a constant challenge that keeps me on my toes :)

  • Michael Moak

    Michael, thank you for taking my question. This has been an issue that has come up several times and my new role has placed me in a position to have to speak directly to the issues. Recently I had to deal with two staff members who had a public confrontation in our church lobby in plain sight and earshot of almost 50 people and my boss was out of the country. That was a very intimidating but critical meeting for my leadership as the newly appointed Executive Pastor, especially since one of the staff was the daughter of my boss, and both ladies were much older than I am. Thanks again for the advice.

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      Yikes, that sounds like a dicey situation.

      Tangentially, I’m currently working on a post about the former president of Ohio State University, Gordon Gee, who recently “retired” because he came under fire for questionable comments he made about Roman Catholics and Notre Dame.

      This ESPN link does a great job on the story || http://es.pn/18VTsZl

      The point being that our respective status, situational context and intended/unintended audiences can amplify the impact of our words.

      A vocal dust-up in the church lobby between two well-regarded church members – has all of those components of status, context and audience that add a layer of complexity to any kind of follow-up engagement with the parties involved. Divine wisdom is the only option there….

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Ouch, that’s a tough one Michael!

  • Dave Unger

    Thanks, Michael, for discussing such a powerful topic.
    I’ve been a boss on the receiving end of disrespectful behavior. And I’ve had one of my direct reports disrespected by someone on their team. And this topic certainly brings those incidents to mind.
    But what came to mind even more powerfully for me are some times when my own conduct has been less than worthy. And that made me want to share my perspective on how to effectively confront a disrespectful employee or coworker.

    1 – Consider your own conduct. As Michael said in his reply to Joe Consford, ”

    Number one, make sure you’re modeling the behavior you’re really asking him to exhibit.” If you’ve been contributing to a bad situation, you need to be aware of it before you can straighten things out effectively. You don’t need to jump straight to public confessions and requests for forgiveness for your own behavior. And you don’t need to blame yourself for the other person’s bad behavior. But don’t approach the discussion with the assumption that you are entirely blameless if you haven’t first paused to reflect on your own conduct. Have you contributed to the current bad situation with words, actions, or inaction?

    2 – Unless the conduct is truly egregious and reprehensible, realize there are two sides to every story. Try to find out what’s prompting the bad behavior. In my experience, there are three common types of causes:

    a. Pathological. There may be something wrong with the person’s physical, mental, or emotional health. If that’s the case, they are very unlikely to be able to change their behavior without outside assistance. Try to help them see that their condition is career-limiting, possibly career-ending and that they need to either get professional help right away or expect to become unemployed. Bad behavior with pathological root causes results in employees who are toxic to everyone, themselves included. Helping them see that and pushing them to seek help is one of the kindest things you can do, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time.

    b. Emotional. People behaving badly are often doing so for emotional, irrational reasons. They might be dealing with something at home. They might be disappointed and resentful that their career has not progressed as fast as they had hoped. They might be feeling overwhelmed by increases in their responsibilities or their workloads. Whatever the specific cause, they are allowing emotions to influence them to behave badly. In cases like this, addressing just the behavior is often ineffective. People who don’t recognize their emotional triggers often feel powerless to curb their own behavioral problems. My suggestion in cases like this is to help them see that they are 100% responsible for managing their behavior including their responses to emotional triggers. But they can enlist the help of others by creating a mutually safe environment where coworkers can call them on bad behavior by asking questions like, “where did that just come from?” rather than feeling offended or allowing tensions to escalate.The challenge here is to help find the root cause and put a stop to the behavior rather than either leaving the person powerless to change or providing them with excuses for continued misbehavior.

    c. Willful. Often, people behave badly simply because they want to or because they have difficulty managing their own behavior. When called on it, they are often tempted to point toward outside influences. “I wouldn’t have said what I said if Mike didn’t say something to me first…” You get the picture. This is where you have to exercise discernment and establish firm boundaries. You need to get them to take responsibility for their behavior or prepare to face the consequences.

    3 – Ultimately, regardless of the root cause, you need to take action to resolve the problem. If the cause root cause is emotional or willful, you have a good chance of transferring your problem back to the misbehaving individual. In the end, no matter what the root cause is, you need to take action to remove the person from the team or remove yourself from the environment. Establish a deadline up front for when the opportunities for discussion or efforts to change will be over and you are committed to taking action. Make sure you follow through. It’s easy to get distracted by excuses or talked into letting someone off the hook because they say they’re trying to change. Your credibility and your team’s culture are at stake. Keep that in mind and do what you need to do.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Excellent, Dave. If you are a blogger, you should turn this into a post!

      • Dave Unger

        Thanks for the encouragement, Michael. I don’t have a blog yet but am working on launching one in the (hopefully) near future.

  • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

    Great episode and great questions Michael. Really glad you started this podcast.

  • http://www.seannisil.com/ Sean Nisil

    A good leader doesn’t let things simmer. And as many of the other comments highlight, though uncomfortable it is always better to deal with the issue. Often, the results can be much more positive than anticipated.

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      I completely agree Sean – good leaders need to respond because attitudes (good and bad) are infectious and can spread quickly through an organization or group.

  • http://JonDHarrison.com/ Jonathan Harrison

    Dr. Henry Cloud told a great story at this year’s Chick-fil-a Leadercast.

    A business owner was dealing with a leader in his organization that also happened to be his son. Word got back to the owner that this leader was mistreating the employees, so the owner was faced with a difficult conversation.

    He called the manager (his son) into his office, and told him: “I wear two hats: the boss hat, and the father hat.

    Right now, I have the boss hat on:

    “You’re fired. I will not tolerate staff being mistreated and spoken to that way. We spoke about this, you talked about changing and that did not happen. You’re fired.”

    Now I’m going to put on my father hat:

    “Son, I heard you just lost your job, is there something I can do?”

    What a great example of how there really are two sides to this type of conversation. In the end, we have to do what is right for the organization, and often this is the best thing for the (former) employee.

    I also refer to this as “Freeing up their future.”

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I loved this example when Henry gave it at Leadercast. Perfect.

      • IAMSynt

        This is awesome in private sector. It’s easier to do. What’s your suggestion for confronting leaders in government, especially when they are connected to the higher echelons? It’s really not that cut and dry. Any thoughts?

  • http://sparkvoice.wordpress.com/ DS

    Your email illustration in this podcast seems like one of the things that played into the creation of your post on responding in anger via email.

    Great point about directly approaching the situation – that confrontation is something I’m weary of but believe is something I need to do to grow as a person.

  • http://www.apprenticeshipofbeinghuman.com/ Graham Scharf

    Two thoughts:
    1. As a parent, teaching my kids the habits of having these hard conversations now will prepare them for doing it well life-long, for the good of their friends, co-workers and families.
    2. There is a significant benefit for those who are confronted.
    My good friend Joshua is a pharmaceutical sales manager. He took a manager position that had remained vacant because no one else wanted it; the team was known to be toxic. One of his first moves in the position was to confront the team members. He said, “You’ve got a reputation. No one wants to work with you, and no one wants you working for them because you’re not good at what you do, and you’re not good to your manager or one another. But I believe that you can change, and so I’m going to help you change.”

    No one had ever spoken to them like this – not only naming their incompetence, but committing himself to their good. Guess what? For the first time ever, they have a manager who isn’t afraid of them AND believes in them, and they’re knocking the cover off the ball . . . and everyone in their region is paying attention.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I love this story. Fabulous!

      • http://www.apprenticeshipofbeinghuman.com/ Graham Scharf

        It is one of the many reasons that I am thankful for Joshua. :)

  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    We’ve had situations like this in our youth group. With them being volunteers and us wanting to bring the best out in them, we’ve found it difficult to cut the ranks.

    But like you said, it must be done. When it is, it’s almost like a heavy weight is lifted off of the team and they’re free to do the important things.

  • Becky Caldwell

    Well this is timely, as I am heading into a difficult conversation today. I’ve read through the posts and haven’t found a similar situation, so I’m hoping someone will comment here with advice.

    As the sole employee of a nonprofit, my board of directors is my boss as well as my volunteer base. The board president was disrespectful to another board member and to me, and I feel I need to confront the her about it. I was hired to increase the professionalism of the organization and to bring in younger board members, volunteers and audiences. The board president’s recent behavior serves none of these goals.

    So my question is: How do you approach someone who is your boss AND a volunteer about their disrespectful behavior? Is there anything I need to consider in addition to what was in the podcast?

    Thank you for this podcast, Michael, and thank you everyone else who posted comments here. I really needed this!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I would start by framing it in terms of what is important to your boss. How is their behavior keeping them from getting what they ultimately want. They I would ask permission to speak honestly. (They will always give it.) Then be direct about your concern. Make sure you have identified what needs to happen to resolve the situation

      • Becky Caldwell

        Michael, thank you so much! Your response arrived about an hour before our meeting–talk about timing! I was able to weave what I needed to say into a conversation we were already having about recruiting new board members. I started by asking her what kind of board members she was looking for and why she thought those types of people were important to our organization. Then I discussed “onboarding” them and mentioned how bad one of our new members felt at their recent communication. I learned that my board president had no idea she came across that way in print and apologized via phone to the person who needed to hear it. I gained a greater understanding of her communication style and her strengths, and we salvaged a relationship.

  • Benjamin Nelson

    Excellent Show this week Michael. Thanks! Such a tough subject. I love what you shared about family, and about volunteer’s.


  • Lindsay Walton

    I would like to respectfully suggest that the steps listed are not in an ideal order. One does not need to secure the support of anyone else before dealing with the problem. When you have a problem with someone, the first person you should always speak with is them. Speaking with the supervisor or other colleagues leads to a sense of having been ratted on or being gossiped about. The person we have an issue with then feels disrespected and this feeds the conflict rather than helping to resolve it. Give respect if you wish to get respect. Give that person the opportunity to deal with the problem first and if it goes well then leave it at that. If you made a snide comment that offended someone, who would you want them to talk to first? Your supervisor? Your colleagues? Or do you hope they would take you aside and give you opportunity to respond to their concern? Swallow your pride, take a deep breath when you want nothing more than to justify yourself in front of the world, and instead do for that person what you hope they would do for you.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Perhaps I wasn’t clear. I was envisioning a situation where you are about to confront someone whom your boss favors. If you confront them with the alignment of your boss, you risk not having their support with the person goes directly to the boss. I have seen this happen on several cases.
      I don’t think you should talk to your colleagues about the person in question. I agree you should speak to that person first.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/Prime3coaching/180794405305000 PRIME3COACHING

    One thing that I always think of is.. long term what do I want my team to look like? I may have a guy who is disrespectful and giving me great results short-term but long term he will negatively impact work culture and the cohesiveness of the team!

  • JOEL


  • Mark Leach

    Thank you for this podcast. I had reason to confront an indispensable, but disrespectful team member yesterday. In preparation, I listened to this podcast while driving and it got my mind tracking on the right approach. Perfect example of the value of podcasts: valuable information available whenever the listener needs it.

  • AJ

    Excellent podcast as usual!
    I am in the middle of consideration for a promotion at work – one that would put me in a leadership role over some of my current peers. I struggle with knowing (if I get the new position) how to handle my peers if there should be any disrespect or just plain lack of respect towards my new role for two reasons:
    1. I am the 2nd youngest member of the team, age-wise.
    2. I have only been in the field for about 1 year.
    The coworkers that I am concerned about are all at least 15 years older than I am, and they have been in the field at least twice as long as I have.
    How would you suggest I handle this situation, should it come about?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Honestly, I would wait to worry. Ninety percent of the stuff we worry about never comes to best. Instead, use that energy to add value to the people around you. Thanks.

  • philipdevine

    Michael, this issue something I have to deal with this week. I searched for “hard conversations” on your website and this podcast popped up…EXACTLY what I need right now! Thank you for what you do!

  • http://www.vocepodefalaringles.com.br Eduardo Souto

    The Transcript from this Podcast is not working, is it going to be fixed?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks. I just fixed it. DropBox had disabled it as a security caution.

      • http://www.vocepodefalaringles.com.br Eduardo Souto

        Hahahaha, thanks Michael, you’re really fast!

        It’s pleasure to have my first comment answered!

        I guess I’m one of the few Brazilian people who are here :)

        • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

          You might be. But we love Brasil! We spent a week there a few years ago.

          • http://www.vocepodefalaringles.com.br Eduardo Souto

            I also have a virtual project called Você pode falar Inglês, my goal with it is teaching people how to speak English as a second language!

            It’s a blog, and try to use everything that you teach me here :D