Dear Dan: An Employee Yelled at Me
I read your blog everyday and need some advice! I believe I am leading a narcissist. She lost it today and called me a name when I provided feedback on a document that was not correct.
She accused me and our company of not valuing her opinions and is threatening to quit.
Honestly, if she quits it would solve the problem but I’ll probably not get that lucky. What are the best strategies in leading the the narcissist?
Confronted by a Narcissist
I don’t know if she is a narcissist, but you’re letting yourself be disrespected.
It might not be the best, but if someone insults you and then threatens to quit, you might gently say, “Go ahead.”
If that doesn’t work for you, try saying, “We don’t speak to each other that way. The next time you insult me, you won’t have to threaten to quit. I’ll fire you.”
Your response to disrespect determines the future of your relationship.
If you allow disrespect, you will be disrespected.
The person you can’t confront controls you. This doesn’t mean you have to control everything. It means this issue is primarily about you.
5 suggestions for dealing with disrespect:
- Do not allow anyone to call you names or yell at you.
- Don’t answer the accusation. Deal with the disrespect. It’s easy to get distracted by, “You don’t value my opinion.” Deal with her concern only after you’ve dealt with her disrespect.
- Create a strategy for the next time this happens*. Discuss options with your boss and/or HR. I suspect this person has been around awhile. She looks down on you.
- Next time this happens, step back and give her space. Relax your breathing and your facial expressions. Wait.
- Deliver your planned response.
I’ll post more later.
What would be on your planned response to being disrespected by an employee?
*The only way this won’t happen again is if she has intimidated you into never saying anything that might upset her.
Read part 2 of this post: How to Respond to an Angry Employee.
If you are disrespected like that, and called names, then this person does not deserve your leadership or the job – fire them, period. It is time that people like this realize that they don’t deserve the job or the pay they make – you have to work for it, and I’ve found complainers usually are not workers.
Thanks Al. I’ve been debating on when a leader might put up with rudeness. Is working with a ‘genius’ worth putting up with crap? BTW I’m not suggesting the person in this post is a genius.
I have learned the hard way that “brilliant jerks” should not be tolerated
I totally agree about not answering the accusation, it never works and puts you on their level which makes it impossible to lead that person. Addressing the disrespect keeps the dialogue professional rather than confrontational. Great article!
Thanks C. There isn’t much to say when the person you are speaking with doesn’t respect you.
The answer for an employee like that is before they misbehave. On day one I establish limits. I will NEVER tolerate inappropriate behavior. It does not matter if its pointed towards me, a coworker or anyone interacting with this team. That is in writing and agreed to by everyone including HR and Union. After that when it occurs you can do something. Good luck otherwise.
Thanks Walt. Proactive is better than reactive. Maybe this is a chance for this organization to establish some ground rules. As you indicate, it’s harder after the fact.
I’ll add that I don’t encourage leaders to speak to the entire team when one person is violating a norm.
This is great and very interesting. I’m curious how (or if) the approach would be different if the person saying those things was not someone that reported to you and instead a colleague?
Agree and don’t wait to do this. Get up shut the door and discuss this but make it clear this will be the one and only time this happens. Also if it happened in front of other employs that person needs to apologized or in some way address this failure publically.
Hey Walt. You remind me that the extent of an offense determines the extent of the apology. Well said.
I agree this behavior should not be tolerated, negative and rebellious attitudes spread like a cancer among the team – it’s just bad mojo and negates the purpose of accomplishing success together. HOWEVER, be sure you are showing respect and not talking “down” when redirecting and offering constructive criticism. Either scenario (staff doesn’t respect you OR they quit), makes you look bad as a leader. Try to find some time for the two of you to talk in private, maybe there’s a deeper issue or she may have just lost someone she loves and is having a bad day. I always find showing compassion while course correcting is a great way to gain respect and get back on track -:) If it continues to be a problem after your gentle nudge of “hey, it’s not okay to respond like that…” then it might be time to show her the door.
I wonder with the response above, if that does not enable the person to continue the behavior and disrespect later. Taking a deep breath, counting to 10 or whatever to stop escalation is appropriate. However, being verbally abused by a colleague is never appropriate.
I will take a slightly different approach on this from observations over the years. While their might be people who are Narcissists more than likely (benefit of the doubt here) people react emotionally like this due to something in their life that is causing stress they can not deal with. If the employee is a generally good employee and the position is needed would it not be best either to have the Supervisor or HR sit down with the employee and see if there are any life events causing such turmoil. At that time one can explain such bursts of yelling and emotion are not accepted employee and that the company has resources (spell them out; EAP etc) that can help said employee deal with their issues. In some ways you probably want to give the “help” approach a try before off loading said employee. I’ve seen where domestic abuse, cancer in the family, divorce, death, drug use in children have all affected the emotional stability of employees. Just some thoughts on a different approach.
Thanks for saying what I was thinking. I agree with your alternative, yet more compassionate approach. This could also be a sign of a personality disorder. EAP would be in a better position to deal with this.
That happened to me once (and only once) . We had a meeting the slightly above in reporting, cancelled a meeting I set up with my region, without talking to me and set up his own. He was way out of line. I tried to meet with him but he refused. I called for a meeting with upper management. In the meeting when confronted, he screamed and told me to resign, he had ZERO authority, just trying to intimidate. I turned to the boss and asked, is this how we do business? And then walked out the room. When called back into the meeting, of course he apologized. Before resuming the meeting before, I informed the screamer, so everyone who heard his screaming, in no way shape or form will I be bullied and bluffed by that type of behavior. Thankfully the late fifties child no longer holds that position and has been cut down a notch or two. No one should ever think themselves so important that they can treat others like they are less. A leader leads and an abuser drives. Allowing a childlike behavior to control or dominate is akin to allowing the inmates to run the asylum.
and its even sadder that our youth are leaning from our leaders and the media that this how grown ups behave.
I’m glad to see the readers’ responses here…how ironic that we as a nation are tolerating this behavior by our elected officials…
Irrespective of whether Confronted’s report IS a narcissist,
she is certainly ACTING narcissistically.
By trying to make the issue “about you” (i.e. not valuing HER “opinion”),
she’s inverting the dynamic (a crisis – tangential in nature rather than to the actual point – that she is creating, by the way) away from fact (what it was in the document that was not “correct”) based to a personal base (hers, personally, that is her “opinion;”). This is what is narcissistic about it, and needs to be clearly understood to correct it … whether a leader or (merely) a manager. The LAST thing Confronted wants to do is take it personally – in any way or manner.
And her quitting won’t resolve the problem, if the problem is that the document is wrong. The document needs to be corrected, right?
So, who’s to do it?
The one who generated it … Her? A leader (as opposed to a manager or supervisor) would find the path through this to make that happen (by persuasion, not manipulation). It’s not an issue of the subordinate’s “opinion,” it is an issue of respecting the truth and accurate presentation of the “fact” at issue.
Or the one ultimately responsible for it … Confronted? A manager would be grateful to have her leave, especially under a cloud of insubordination and disrespect of the company’s (read: “team’s”) values (truth, correct facts, etc.). Then the manager (as opposed to the leader, of course) can edit/fix the document themself (the most efficient resolution to a mangling of fact, if so).
In terms of a planned response, understand first what it is functionally that you are dealing with:
It is a complex of behaviors, no simple way to identify in a moment, but devastating across the board if you are drawn into it and over-react (it’s a lose-lose-lose scenario … the objective by the passive aggressor is to lose little [self-respect] but claim to have been victimized alot [everyone else’s respect] ).
Confronted was clearly surprised at the report’s response to the feedback … aggressive response to a routine feedback –
Step 1 is to document the incident/exchange that has already occurred;
write their own “affidavit” of facts regarding the incident, carefully limiting [editing out] personal responses (feelings/inner reactions at the time [irrelevant and immaterial to the matter at hand … “correcting fact”] and judgments/inner thoughts making projections of the facts in the moment [“narcissist!”], and submitting it to HR or confronted’s supervisor as a contemporary statement of incident – not a claim, not a complaint, just a memo to the file, so to speak, and a notice that there may be future repercussions/issues/liabilities. Encourage – but do not order or direct – any witnesses to do the same, wholly independent of your input or oversight.
And never, ever, allow yourself to be alone with this person, on-site or off. ALWAYS make sure there is a mostly disinterested third party when the two of you are together.
Step 2 is to prepare for the next confrontation … with witnesses … it cannot be let lie … and if you do wait too long, you know it will happen again – once successful, a bully will escalate. If it draws no blood, breaks no bones, nor picks your pocket – you have not been harmed – do not retaliate in kind. Use your own disbelief not as a weakness for them to exploit, but allow it to be the strength they can’t allow you : empathy.
The best immediate response (would have been and still) is something to the effect of “mirroring,” repeating what they just said, as if to confirm what you just heard from them, something to the effect of, “[‘Name called,’ ‘expletive used,’ et al.]!!!; ‘the whole company is against you?’ You are quitting?” using the same tone as they delivered their abuse of your trust, but a conversational volume, and then, as kindly, calm and concerned (w/o being sarcastic) as you can muster:
“You can’t possibly mean that. Please tell me I heard you wrong.”
If they are truly narcissistic, they will take the mirroring as mockery, and educate you in far more hysterical terms that IS what they meant, and more by the way. Now you’ve established that this is a problem that needs to be removed – the situation is not redeemable.
If they are in passive-aggressive habit, they will almost certainly try to revise/deny that what you repeated is NOT what they said, and find a way to soften their actual words, but harden their attack and perfect their victimization (they won’t see the irony in it, so don’t expect them to) …
just let them go on – listen very carefully, and mirror their statements dispassionately, “just so I’m clear/understand correctly/know specifically what you are saying,…” etc.
So long as they don’t get a blatantly negative reaction (or violent one, for that matter) – because that is precisely what it is they are trying to provoke – they will probably get more and more frustrated … until they blow up again (hysterical), or just exhaust themselves. Now you’ve established that all this is about alot more than either of you or some misstatement of fact on a document, and will take some time and energy (off the clock) to remedy, but you may or may not be able to manage it together.
And if it turns out that they were just in a dark place at the wrong time, they will recognize it and try to repair. Now you’ve led everyone to a place where redemption is possible, permissible and preferable to all and for all. Not that it’s easy, mind you.
This is an absolutely awesome way to respond! Do not use emotion and simply lay out what the person did was wrong.
Confrontation should never involve disrespect. Disagreements will come up, but we must handle them professionally.