A few important bits of context:

  • I am a team leader for a team of 4 + 1 temp.
  • We have a few projects (reports, analyses for our department) in our pipeline and our director mostly lets me prioritize them.
  • From mid March to mid April, we had a few intense weeks of developing new dashboards and reports to answer questions from our management about our market.
  • Before I was team leader I was an analyst on this team, along with another person whom joined in the same position a few months prior to me. That person also applied for the team leader position and obviously did not get it.

Now, today during a department meeting that person took a jab at me by saying that we would have been better prepared for this additional reporting to our management had we not lacked vision. This statement assumes that this reporting was not thought of or and/or that we could have been ready earlier, which I believe is wrong on both accounts.

Nevertheless, this type of behaviour tends to get me flustered and I typically don't react immediately as I don't know how to respond. When I talk to them afterwards and ask if they are dissatisfied with something, they generally tend to dismiss the discussion and say that nothing's wrong / I misunderstood them.

I think not reacting to this undermines me greatly as it shows others I tolerate this behaviour. On the other end, as I get flustered I'm often afraid if I call them out during the event I will create an open conflict during a department meeting, which might make look even worse if they deny my understanding of what they said.

My question: Are there ways to directly address the behaviour as it happens without making it worse ?

  • Read the book from PhD Marshall Rosenberg , nonviolent communication and try to catch his workshops online. I got this advise from a team lead from NodeJS team.
    – mario ruiz
    Jul 9, 2020 at 3:08
  • @marioruiz, Another good one is "When I Say No, I Feel Guilty" by Manuel J. Smith. The fogging and reverse-inquiry techniques should be useful in this particular case. amazon.com/When-Say-No-Feel-Guilty/dp/0553263900 Jul 9, 2020 at 3:34

5 Answers 5


I'm a fan of saying, "Let's table this discussion for ["another meeting" or "tomorrow's standup" or "our weekly 1-on-1"]." This does two main things:

  1. Makes it clear that this is not the appropriate time for the discussion, which should satisfy your desire to discourage insubordination. If they refuse, it is now their fault for creating a confrontation, not yours.
  2. Sets up the expectation that you do want to hear it, which signals to the rest of the team as well as to management that you are open to input, just not at this time.

It's short and concise, and it takes back control of the conversation without looking petty or vindictive. Of course, make sure you actually do bring it up again when you say you will.

  • Good point. That may also ease the tension in a heated debate if there is any in the room at that time. After people are cool off a bit, they tend to be more professional the next time they speak. Jul 9, 2020 at 23:56

I might be wrong as it's difficult to judge the situation over the internet. I see a pattern that freshly promoted team leads try to overcompensate the lack of experience and maybe confidence by brushing off critical feedback. In this case you can't even excuse that you need time to learn the ropes, because your were there before. Still you inherited some problems from your predecessor and you will be blamed for them although it's not your fault.

So before discussing insubordination, start by acknowledging the complaint on the spot. That doesn't mean you have to agree to it, but you must give the feeling that you're hearing the feedback and understand it. The least thing you could do is to question if the vision was communicated properly, like "We had extensive discussions about our vision beginning of the year with result that ... As there seems to me questions on that, let's have a talk afterwards to clarify it." or "I understand that you're feeling that way and I agree that ... must be improved. Nevertheless it was important to start somewhere." You have to address wrong statements immediately, else other people will pick it up.

Then have a private discussion with the team member. It's very important that you stay to the facts and don't tell what you think is the employee's motivation. List the occurrences when complaints were articulated in a big meeting. Ask if he feels that those things cannot be discussed with you and after that if there is an underlying issue. Be prepared to take valuable feedback and even to try some of the suggestions. Make sure that you both agree on a change, either on his behaviour or your management style or both. If the employee gets the feeling he is punished, you'll face more problems later on, so have a fair and constructive discussion.


I've watched this behavior before. It's pretty unsettling. You are sensing that they are trying to undermine you. You're probably right.

Keeping your cool in a situation like this is key to resolving it. You find yourself getting upset (understandable) and don't want to look like an idiot. You also don't want to react badly to something that's not there.

You're a manager now. This person wanted (and probably wants) your job. There may be some harmless spite stemming from jealousy that will eventually pass. We can hope. But, maybe not. You may have to deal with this again.

Your job as a manager is to keep everyone productive. In a meeting with other staff, you are to contribute to the group and get feedback on your progress. The sideline of "we'd be better off if..." does not contribute to those goals. So, you need to run it out. But, how?

Waiting until after the meeting was probably a good first choice. But, if it happens again, you need to be ready. If you're prepared, you'll be calm. How you address it in the meeting is up to you. I, personally, would ask him to elaborate on his position. He'll either back down, or jump at the chance. If he backs down, shrug it off. If he jumps, he may end up chewing his own face off. Either way, you've made him the target. If he has valid points, listen and address them. You staying professional is the key.

After the meeting you can pull him aside and tell him that you value his input and contribution to the team, but, next time, he needs to address these issues with you first, and history lessons do not make good meetings. Again, stay calm and professional.

It will get easier with practice.

  • Good points. "Stay calm and professional" : Companies always want all employees to behave professionally in all situations. I also like the message "You also don't want to react badly". Jul 10, 2020 at 0:03

My advice....when/if this happens again, look at the person directly for a few seconds and don't respond immediately. I'd then say something like "...we can table that discussion for after this meeting Bob. For now, let's move to ......"

For the conversation with him after the meeting, I'd be direct with him - tell him that you are all on the same team and if he has an issue with you directly to bring that problem to you...not try and solve something like that at a meeting. And then sit down and ask him why he felt like he did and you and he discuss it right there.

  • "look at the person directly for a few seconds and don't respond immediately" How about rolling eyes additionally, in case not everybody in the room noticed how annoyed you are? Really: you can't be more passive aggressive than that.
    – Chris
    Jul 9, 2020 at 19:02

It's definitely a delicate situation. It sounds like the person in question might be harbouring some resentment over the fact that you got the promotion over them - which I'm sure you can understand, especially since they'd been at the company longer than you. That's not an excuse for poor behaviour, but it's important to consider the other person's feelings.

Like you I don't really like confrontations, and having one in front of other people would make me very flustered and would likely not lead to a good outcome for anyone. I wouldn't call out small snide jabs like that in larger meetings if they're fairly infrequent - in my opinion, unless it was a blatant insult, it'd make you look overbearing and aggressive. If the person was constantly mouthing off in front of other department heads for an entire meeting, maybe you'd want to pause the meeting and have a chat with them outside (and not let them back into the meeting) - but ideally you don't let it get to that point.

I'd recommend you take the person aside and sit them down for a 1-on-1 chat - ideally you'd do this with every member of your team semi-regularly anyway to gather feedback on the team's health and how they feel about your management/team-lead abilities. Doing it for the whole team also lets you 'hide' this discussion with the problem individual, making them feel less targeted.

But that said, you are targeting them. You mentioned that they brush off their comments when you talk to them, but you need to make it clear that you want to hear what they have to say. If they still refuse to elaborate, explain basically what you said here - it's not suitable to air those grievances in meetings as it undermines your authority, and if they have concerns they should feel free to speak to you directly.

If the problem continues beyond that point, you may need to escalate it to your manager or to HR, because an insubordinate team member is toxic to your team cohesion and if it goes on for too long you're going to start seeing a hit to your team's work. If they can't be reasoned with and won't adjust their behaviour because of bitterness over the promotion, or a dislike of you, or anything at all, they need to be moved to another team or let go entirely.

But to be clear, the problem isn't going to go away with just addressing these comments in the meetings when the occur. At best you'll make the person feel embarrassed, cementing their dislike of you and maybe making your other team members feel scared to bring problems to you in the future. At worst you'll start a screaming match in front of other department managers and lose your credibility.

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