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We have a small team of just a few people. As the owner of the company I keep things transparent among employees so they are encouraged to comfortably speak their mind and share their feedback at meetings.

What bothers me is that the employee who I hired as a manager, tends to talk condescendingly to me at meetings. Sometimes she will rush me to finish what I'm saying at a meeting, because she thinks we are having too many meetings and taking too long. Other times she feels okay to interrupt me when I am speaking. These scenarios don't bother me as much as when she will flat out say something like "I don't think you understood" when we have different recollections on a certain issue from a previous meeting.

It bothers me to a great extend because she is my entrusted employee who I appoint as manager of other employees. I find her not only disagreeing with me quite often at meetings but also talks condescendingly. I personally would never say things like "I don't think you understood" in any setting, whether professional or in everyday life.

As her manager, I always take the high road. When she makes stupid mistakes that threatens the company, I always side with her and help her solve the issue privately. I have never seen her talk to other employees or our outside vendors this way, so I can't justify why she would do so to me. More importantly, she should be my supporter and set good examples in front of other employees.

Now I'm not sure how my other employees will perceive me or the company culture overall. How would you handle a difficult employee and his/her condescending behaviors?

  • It would be best if you discussed a conflict you have with her, including the setup and outcomes, in more detail here. As it stands there are too many unknowns. – user42272 Jun 21 '17 at 4:32
  • This employee and I went on a business trip and had meetings with a potential vendor. During the meeting the vendor presented a strategy that would help us increase our sales. After we got back and in the following week, we had a conference call (this time another employee of mine who didn't go on the biz trip sat in the conference call as well) with the same vendor and they brought up this strategy again. After the phone call, the problematic employee asked me if I noticed that strategy was brought up again and if I see an issue with that. – Terri C Jun 21 '17 at 4:51
  • Continued: She indicated that this strategy, if added, will affect the pricing the vendor had already proposed which will be more expensive. I said I don't agree because I know this is just an added value service from the vendor. She immediately corrected me and told me that "I don't think you understood" what they were saying. I was surprised to hear that especially she said it in front of another employee. I asked her than show me why you believe that I was wrong. She opened her notes and said that's exactly what she heard verbatim. – Terri C Jun 21 '17 at 4:57
  • She then said "you don't have go back and forth to repeat yourself". I responded: then you need to find out exactly what the vendor meant. Later when the vendor emailed back, they said it was not a big deal and nothing will affect our pricing - they wanted to stay competitive. Hence I was right. Then this employee emailed me saying that maybe she didn't understand correctly. However, she admitted this in private and no other employees would know it was actually her that was wrong. Truth is, if you really want to help someone understand something, you don't put them down first. – Terri C Jun 21 '17 at 5:02
  • Who is the boss? Sometime it is necessary to reset the boundaries of a relationship. I cannot imagine speaking to my boss that way. – Mister Positive Jun 21 '17 at 11:57
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I think you can restore order with a collection of "soft skill" tactics. Show, don't tell, and lead by example, and do so quite deliberately, i.e. this is not about being nice and hoping she does too. I'll call her Bev.

Sometimes she will rush me to finish what I'm saying at a meeting

Do not let her take the floor from you. Try things like:

  • "Continuing from where I left off..."
  • "I agree with Bev, and as I was saying."
  • "Thanks Bev let me get to that." ("Thanks" really means "Excuse me" but is more collaborative.)

she thinks we are having too many meetings and taking too long

And I'm sure her opinion of the length of quantity of the meetings is not on topic for the meeting she is presently in, so restore to the topic of hand. If you are feeling sarcastic perhaps smile and mention remarks like that is the reason why we take so long sometimes. Conclude the meeting with a nod to her good intent: "I'll send out an agenda next time and anyone who thinks we can resolve things offline can let me know."

Or maybe she does not need to attend these meetings. You would want to figure that out with her.

"I don't think you understood" when we have different recollections on a certain issue from a previous meeting

Does it matter? "Regardless, I do not think that is the best way to move forward now. Can you explain to me why it's not without quoting the meeting?" Or, "Please correct my understanding then, I am listening."

You should catch these condescension moments and hold her accountable. If my subordinate tells me I didn't understand something, I generally expect them to be ready to elucidate me. They usually are. If not, they are embarrassed, and I do not embarrass them further and we move on.

I have never seen her talk to other employees or our outside vendors this way, so I can't justify why she would do so to me.

For a lot of reasons, actually. She is terrified you may hold her to higher standards and fire her. She is (misguidedly) trying to show off. Perhaps to win a promotion. Perhaps she feels competitive if you are both women, or perhaps she has double to prove if she is a woman and you are not. Honestly this should be somewhat assuring to you - clearly you have someone capable of respect who is running into difficulty sharing this with you.

My priority would be to turn her microaggressions into opportunities to hold her accountable in respect. She probably feels in some way unsafe with you (being dumb, making mistakes, being wrong, etc.), so you will want to demonstrate your respect to her overtly as well. For instance, if she thinks you are wrong, this is a great time to both hold her accountable to articulate why and genuinely be concerned and curious she has insight you don't right now (which is probably true).

Note to people who prefer answers stay gender neutral unless there's a "smoking gun" that sexual harassment or discrimination is involved: I've heard plenty of women and a few men, and have had the fortune of going through HR trainings explaining how gender "dynamics" show up in situations like this, usually in the form of discrimination, or fear of discrimination (plausible here). Obviously none of my answer assumes the woman employee is in the right here. I do go so far as to suggest that the gender dynamic ought to be thought through when assessing how to move forward. The point of posting on workplace.SE is to get advice on topics that you can't just bring up with people in the workplace. Gender is not a large part of my answer but I'm not exactly censoring it to stay politically correct either.

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    I agree with most of what you had said, but not sure why you felt the need to include: Perhaps she feels competitive if you are both women, or perhaps she has double to prove if she is a woman and you are not.. Both qualities come to either sex, it doesn't matter if you're male or female and on which receiving end you are – Draken Jun 21 '17 at 6:42
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    @Draken you can see my edit, tldr because I have years of experience dealing with this and it is wrong to exclude gender dynamics as influencing what is going on. Obviously I didn't think there was a ton to talk about with gender here, but I'm not censoring the topic of gender on the off chance that it outrages some user who wants to keep everything gender neutral. – user42272 Jun 21 '17 at 13:15
  • Because there are also age dynamics, race dynamics, position dynamics, etc. The list is endless and these dynamics will come into play in one way or another, I just don't see how it was relevant to this question and the others weren't? – Draken Jun 21 '17 at 14:59
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    @Draken can I seriously not just post an answer mentioning gender without having to also carry the entire burden of justifying the existence of workplace gender as a topic? It's one sentence in my answer. I know the employee's gender and suggested the OP take it into account. Where did you get the idea this sentence in my answer was so worth seizing upon? Again I'm not censoring it to appease the gender-neutrality crowd. – user42272 Jun 21 '17 at 18:49
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    @Draken also going to throw out that the OP used "she" instead of a gender neutral pronoun, and did not mention the employee's race or age (and did mention position, which I addressed thoroughly, and at much greater length than gender.) If OP wishes to amend the question to include details on the employee's race, age, sexual orientation or any other protected category I will happily shuffle through my knowledge on the topic and amend my answer accordingly. – user42272 Jun 21 '17 at 18:51
5

First, figure out if she's right.

Get one of your other employees to "shadow" you at a few meetings. Make up whatever reason. When you get "corrected" by this employee, bite your tongue, and then ask your other employee if you're remembering correctly, or she is.

Then, depending on who's correct, either learn to trust her more, or show her the door.

In either case, you need to talk with her about how she addresses you.

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    I think this is a good first step but I would not jump to "the door" for an employee who is otherwise valuable, or even just passable. – user42272 Jun 21 '17 at 4:33
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    @djechlin Perhaps not, but I've seen the damage waiting too long to get rid of folks like this causes, too. Judgement call. – Wesley Long Jun 21 '17 at 6:45
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Any person who is appointed a manager should never have a condescending attitude towards her superiors in front of any staff let alone any Jr Staff.

Regardless of the accuracy of her statments she could go about it in a respectful way. She could wait for you to finish speaking and ask politly if the information is accurate because x y and z. Unless what you are saying is compleatly false I would venture to say she should not be correcting you in front of others at all.

The best options for her is to take notes and then speak with you in private or in a Sr. staff meeting to discuss the accuracy of the notes.

This kind of attitude happens from time to time when someone is given a position of power and should be corrected as soon as possible before bad habits become to hard to correct. If she is only this way towards you then you 2 need to have a 1 on 1 to has out the problem and figure out a solution going forward.

You are the owner after all. Your position demands respect and should receive it. Being transparent is fine and a good thing. Just don't allow your manager (your employee) to treat you like a door mat.

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    If it continues, have a private, short, meeting: "I prefer to have an open exchange of opinions, but I am afraid it is sometimes necessary to have a number of ground rules. You have several times ... and ... in front of collaborators (and clients), where you have been later shown wrong. I must ask you to let me speak out as I do let you (or anyone else) speak out. You are, as all of us, entitled to your opinion, but I must request that putting down other people's opinion, and especially in front of others is not acceptable (and note that it is sometimes you that is wrong). That will be all." – Captain Emacs Jun 21 '17 at 7:14
  • @CaptainEmacs: I agree. Seams almost like you may have run into this situation in the past. – Sierra Mountain Tech Jun 21 '17 at 21:52
  • Let's put it this way: I am very tolerant and can handle quite a lot of behaviours, with one exception: I have a deep-seated allergy to power games ;-) – Captain Emacs Jun 22 '17 at 0:13
0

I'm sensing that you're more concerned with hierarchy and being the boss than you are with actually listening to the people who are doing the work.

Sometimes she will rush me to finish what I'm saying at a meeting, because she thinks we are having too many meetings and taking too long

Perhaps you are long-winded! And as the boss, you might not be concerned with how many hours you put in each day. But other people have a life outside of work. You can't talk for as long as you please, AND expect people to get work done.

"I don't think you understood"

Why would she say this, if she felt that the two of you had reached an accord on present business? It seems you are jumping to conclusions without actually hearing the concerns.

I have never seen her talk to other employees or our outside vendors this way, so I can't justify why she would do so to me

It's YOU. Stop being defensive!

All the factors point to a communication problem that you seem to refuse to "own". You are the emperor who's wearing no clothes. Step off your throne a second, and listen.

  • quite some good sense here. It's possible too that's she's been more on the offensive, because it's THE BOSS? he's the one that truly need to understand what going on more than the other, so she insists more. – Walfrat Jun 21 '17 at 14:25

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