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My husband and I have a small consulting firm in which I am the 'chief financial officer', and he and all the employees are the technical expertise.
My husband and I share the responsibility for all policy decisions and work very well together, respecting each others contribution to our company.

We have an employee who has been with us for 7 years now. Although she is good at her job she has become quite the Prima Donna of the office. She balks when my husband asks her to do a task she disagrees with, tries to take over meetings, and treats me like I am only present because I'm "the bosses wife".
She has actually ignored a direct question in a meeting, looked at my husband across the conference table, and asked him how he would like her to handle my request and told him perhaps I should highlight the work descriptions I need clarified (which I needed before I could invoice the client) and submit them to her. My husband didn't know what to say so moved on to the next item.

How do I handle this employee?

Added:
Thank you all for your input. It really helps me get my own head out of the way & look at this objectively. I think my husband will be speaking with her & kindly reestablishing what is expected. This will hopefully take care of both issues.

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    I assume you've spoken about this with your husband/co-owner. What (if anything) did he say? It makes a huge difference in how to address the issue depending on how much support the co-owner will give for whatever decision is made, and whether he has limited any options. – jmac Oct 18 '13 at 4:50
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    comments removed In order to encourage answers, we removed the comments attempting to answer the question. Answers in comments cannot be properly vetted or voted on and may discourage real answers since it appears the asker was already helped. Hope this helps! – jmort253 Oct 24 '13 at 3:22
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    You said she's been in your company for 7 years. Did she behave like that all the time, did she start it at some point or did her behavior just change with time up to now? – superM Oct 25 '13 at 13:29
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My husband didn't know what to say so moved on to the next item. how do I handle this employee?

I would have expected your co-owner (husband) to immediately respond with something along the lines of "Cleo is your boss, you are expected to do what you are told."

I think that first you and your husband need to get together as co-owners and discuss how you want to handle similar situations.

Then, you need to take Ms. Diva aside privately, and clarify the reporting relationships. Make it clear to her that you are in charge, and that employees are not permitted to ignore management.

I would also expect you to make it clear what the repercussions will be if her behavior doesn't improve immediately. That's for you and your husband to decide. But if it were me, I'd fire anyone who continued to balk at tasks from one co-owner, and ignore direct questions from the other. Small companies need everyone on the same page.

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    "Make it clear to her that you are in charge" this is the part that the colleague is clearly challenging. That's a separate issue to their poor behaviour - focus on that first. – JBRWilkinson Oct 21 '13 at 11:29
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    clear lines of command. It needs to be made very clear who is boss for who, and the diva needs to respect that. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Oct 22 '13 at 9:52
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    Are there bosses who actually expect workers to "do what [they] are told" rather than to exercise critical thinking and judgement to determine if there is a mismatch between "what [they] are told" and what actually needs to get done? That's baffling to me. I can't think of a worse idea for a boss to have in mind than for workers to "do what they are told" instead of "plan and devise ways to accomplish what needs to happen." There's such a dramatic difference between the two. – ely Feb 11 '14 at 18:20
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    Yes @EMS in the real world bosses have the right and responsibility to tell employees what to do and expect them to do it. The workplace is not a democracy. Not all jobs are about critical thinking. And even when you allow them latitutde normally, you are expected to do what the boss asks when he specifies something. It is the bosses job to make decsions. And once those are made employees are expected to do what they are asked to do. – HLGEM Feb 11 '14 at 18:47
  • In the several professional experiences that I have had, and in all of the professional experiences that my peers have had, this has never been remotely true. And these folks work in all sorts of jobs, ranging from retail customer service to university chancellor offices to the IT departments of Fortune 500 companies. I am amazed that in such broad exposure to different employment experiences, the only times I've ever heard of bosses who use the attitude "the workplace is not a democracy" has been in the context of those bosses getting fired or demoted. – ely Feb 11 '14 at 19:10
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Given that the employee respects your husband, he can sit down with her, without you present (this will feel like the two of you ganging up, and will be embarrassing for her), and reaffirm what all of your respective roles are.

Focus on one or two specific area that you think is most important in this discussion, eg lack of respect for you the wife, or taking over meetings.

This will reestablish to her what everyone's position is in the company, and give her perspective of how to act accordingly.

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    If she is the CEO and (co-)owner of the company, delegating to her husband may reinforce the misperception that the husband is the person of authority in this situation. I strongly suggest not delegating authority to the husband in this situation lest it make the situation worse. – jmac Oct 18 '13 at 7:52
  • I want to thank all of you for you input. it really does help get my own head out of the situation & look at it objectively. – Cleo Oct 19 '13 at 11:05
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I'm currently reading 'The Deadline: A Novel About Project Management' by Tom DeMarco, which has a chapter on resolving conflicts.

In the german wikipedia you can find a recap of that specific chapter here and this is a run down of the important points for this question:

  • In a professional setting conflicts can't be avoided (so we need to accept that these happen).
  • Negotiation is hard; mediation is easy.
  • Conflicts are no sign of unprofessional behavior, but of different success conditions.
  • Both parties must accept that they are on the same side - it's the conflict that is on the other side.
  • A mediator should not be the superior of one or both parties, but both parties have to agree to enter mediation to resolve the conflict.

That last point is important - having a superior do the mediation, puts the subordinates in a bad spot where they can't really be open, so I advise against asking your husband to do it.

The mediator doesn't even have to be part of the company. Maybe you're friends with a teacher or social worker. Those often times are trained in mediation techniques.

If the mediation - or which ever approach at resolving this issue - doesn't show any success, I think you have to accept the consequences and part ways as this is no basis for working together.

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    since she is the boos with her husband are the boss It think this here doesn't really apply. She need to do what she is told. i'd have -1 this response if I had 125+ rep. – Rémi Oct 18 '13 at 14:18
  • That's one attitude to have, of course. I'm advocating a different one, which is to seek common ground and build two parties into a team. If you value your employees (and I assume so, from her working for the company for 7 years now), going with the - let me call it - military approach might just alienate the employee and cause her to leave. It would do so for me and I'd expect the same to happen with the people I lead. – CMW Oct 18 '13 at 14:22
  • outside a hierarchy situation, that would be more likly really to the approch I would take but in a hierarchy situation I would stick to the hierarchy and clearly state her who is the boss and point out what is wrong in the situation – Rémi Oct 18 '13 at 14:28
  • Like I mentioned, the attitude or approach you speak about is a valid one, too. I'm just advocating a different one. Which one will work best for this situation is up to Cleo to decide, I think. Both may or may not lead to a desirable result. – CMW Oct 18 '13 at 14:31
  • Of course, she is the only one who can judge what is the best way to handle this. – Rémi Oct 18 '13 at 14:43

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