Dear Dan: A Team Member is Sarcastic and Disrespectful

Dear Dan,

I have recently been promoted to sales manager. One of my team members is not giving me the respect as a manager.

He often acts sarcastically about some of my plans and just acts like I don’t matter. He has only been with the company for about a year. I don’t think he thought I would end up his manager.

He is challenged in his territory and is struggling to meet certain budgets. I feel I will have to work closely with him to help him in his territory, but I am concerned about his attitude and comments.

The rest of my team is on board with everything.



Dear Disrespected,

Congratulations on earning your promotion. I believe that learning to navigate this situation will serve you well in the future.

Aretha Franklin speaks for everyone when she sings, “All I want is just a little respect.”

People often do foolish things when they feel disrespected. Anyone who acts with wisdom and integrity while being disrespected earns my respect. 

Disrespect pollutes perspectives, distracts leaders, derails teams, and drains enthusiasm.

I’m going to offer several suggestions. Perhaps one or two will make sense and be helpful.

Assume the best.

His behaviors may reflect feelings he has toward himself, not you.

You mention that he’s new to your company. Perhaps he feels insecure. I have the “gift of sarcasm.” It’s more prominent when I’m stressed.

View your team member as a person who wants to succeed and needs your support, unless you have clear evidence of malice.

Provide clear feedback.

I like to discuss issues in the same context where they occurred. If it’s public, address it publicly. (You may prefer private feedback. Choose the option that feels best to you.)

Say what you see. Don’t judge it. Don’t say, “You’re being disrespectful.” Say, “You seem sarcastic. What’s going on for you?” Just bring it up.

Maintain forward-facing curiosity. Don’t attack or defend. Explore.

If Mr. Sarcasm brushes off your feedback by saying, “I was just joking,” let him know that it doesn’t feel funny to you.

Finally, in private, explore ways for Mr. Sarcasm to adopt behaviors that better serve the team and help him get where he wants to go.

Things like respect, connection, and timely feedback matter most when they’re most difficult.

Don’t complain about Mr. Sarcasm to higher-ups.

Beware of complaining about Mr. Sarcasm to the people who hired him. Instead, seek suggestions about how to bring out his best.

Don’t take it personally.

Your ultimate concern is the success of your team and company. I see in your email a willingness to help Mr. Sarcasm succeed. I encourage you to hang on to that commitment.

Don’t demand respect.

Leaders that demand respect have already lost it.

Bring your best self to work, not your reactive self.

“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.” Lao Tzu

Don’t rely on authority.

The more disrespect we feel, the more authority we feel we need. But swinging a big stick is not the answer to earning respect.

Show respect:

You can respect someone you don’t feel warmly toward. Showing respect is acknowledging someone’s character, competence, and contribution. Additionally, acknowledge shared values.

Practice good manners. It’s tough to show courtesy to someone who seems discourteous. But courtesy is a matter of who you are, not what others do.

Hold everyone on the team in high regard. If you can’t, they shouldn’t be on the team. Here’s a suggestion. Before meetings write one thing you respect about each person around the table. This is one way to shift your mental attitude.

Respect is about feeling valued. You might ask, “How can I show Mr. Sarcasm he’s valued?” 

Focus on the good.

Bad is louder than good. Intentionally look for good and celebrate it publicly, even when it honors Mr. Sarcasm.

Seek an external coach or mentor.

Explore options and find support with someone outside your organization.

Deal with malice.

If it turns out that Mr. Sarcasm has malice toward you, consider reassigning or removing him. Don’t manufacture excuses. Be honest. Act in ways that serve your team’s best interest and seek Mr. Sarcasm’s highest good.

You have my best for future success,


What might leaders do when they feel disrespected by someone on the team?

*This is a belated Solution Saturday Post. I relax my 300 word limit on weekends.