Dear Dan: A Team Member is Sarcastic and Disrespectful
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.
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.
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.
This is a good conversation. We have someone on the team who is sarcastic–with everyone. If this happens in meetings, should it be called out at the same time? Could it not create discomfort and conflict?
Thanks Donna. You might consider balancing the discomfort of tolerating sarcasm with the discomfort of confronting it.
Some of us are more comfortable dealing with public issues, publicly. If this is an issue for you, you might do it in private.
Another issue some people are very good at making others look bad. If you bring it up, they say things like, “Don’t be so sensitive,” to belittle people. If there’s a history of playing politics and backstabbing, be prepared. The best thing is to keep your positive intentions in mind. Don’t get defensive.
I have a couple team members who can go off in unproductive ways at team meetings sometimes. I have felt if they are going to air it in public I need to deal with it publically. My concern is that if it is not addressed then, in front of the group, as it was aired in front of the group what impact does it have on the others? If I address it only in private I may reach that person but what of the rest of the group that had to listen to it?
Great advice Dan. Focusing on the impact on the team from his behavior, puts the responsibility on his back to improve. Asking him what he needs to succeed and delivering it, might turn the corner for him. Make his decision to not change HIS decision for which there are consequences.
Thanks Jim. Yes! Make people responsible for their own behaviors. Frankly, offering too much help is one reason people don’t respect us.
Sarcasim can be tough, each of us handles differently, your spot on in responding to the individual as described,
Sometimes it hard to decipher if they are serious, surely one on one is the way to go from my perspective.
If the individuals continues than a greater power may be required!
Thanks Tim. You make me think about proportional response. Don’t over-react unless you have clear indications of malice. Be kind. Don’t attack sarcasm with sarcasm.
1. I like Dan’s comment “assume positive intent.” Always a good way to start.
2. But, when a student look at his/her cell phone, while I’m teaching, I speak to them after class. I say, “I feel disrespected when you’re on your cell phone or talking to your neighbor, while I’m trying to teach.” I recommend you do something similar with Mr. Sarcastic. And do it in private. He may not even realize he is coming across as disrespectful.
3. I would tell him–your goal is to help him perform at his best. What is his goal?
4. Finally. don’t spend all your time with the problem. Stay focused on all the good things the rest of the team is doing.
Thanks Paul. Your insights make sense to me. In particular, #4 is essential. It’s so easy to get sucked into negativity.
I’ve worked with leaders who grapple with resistance, distrust, and backstabbing. It’s easy to respond negatively to negativity.
I totally agree with, Dan. Now I will share this with the management because they are the first one being uncivilized to people on the front line.
Thanks Perpetua. Seems like it goes both ways.
Good point Dan – Respect is earned rather than demanded because of a title or position. From the position of the Devil’s Advocate, sarcasm can be a sharp sense of humor, which may also be a sign of strong intellect.
Whether publicly or privately, I’d confront “Mr Sarcasm” with “While we may get a chuckle from your comment – specifically HOW might you suggest we solve the issue/challenge/problem?” Talk is cheap. Either they’ll speak up or shut up.
Thanks Scott. I’m sometimes frustrated when people don’t get sarcasm. But I also understand how dangerous it can be. It’s easy to take it too far. Frankly, I’ve been encouraged on more than one occasion to be careful.
I feel your respect for sarcasm and share it.
This is helpful, because I often meet sarcasm with sarcasm and it doesn’t serve anyone well. I like your idea that his sarcasm may not be about me.
Really love this: You can respect someone you don’t feel warmly toward.
I’ve seen others and been guilty myself of allowing my level of “like” for others to cloud my judgment and negatively impact my own effectiveness in working with them.
I really appreciate the number and variety of the insights and suggestions! Good to you.
There are many good ideas and recommendations shared here. It also made me think that perhaps the overly sarcastic person doesn’t feel they’ve been able to speak their voice enough.
I like to occasionally devote a team meeting exclusively to griping/venting in a safe zone, as it gives a chance for folks to dump their thorns. I try to guide the session so that everyone gets to contribute and there are sometimes some real gems that turn out to be things we can resolve ourselves. There is still great value in regular one-on-one sessions with your directs (essential for each of us as a leader), but this sort of occasional team griping session can also help build team camaraderie from knowing we all have things that bug us and we can help each other by working together. The overly sarcastic person may find they feel more a part of the team and start to shift their perspective from feeling valued and safe.
There are so many different ways to connect. But however it happens, it feels like connecting is the answer to make things better.