Insubordinate workers not only threaten the harmony of the workplace but can cause immeasurable loss of productivity and bring down employee morale among the rest of the workforce. All forms of insubordination present peculiar challenges for managers, team leaders, and human resource staff. Here are some ways to deal with insubordination.
Speak privately as a first step
Insubordination can be openly manifested and verbal with loud retorts and abusive language or passive aggressive with hostile body language and silent refusal to carry out instructions, Confrontation often leads to a worsening of the insubordination and threatens to blow it out of control. Ignoring it or leaving it unaddressed results in a vitiated atmosphere and sets a bad precedent for others.
Insubordination is not normal behavior by any means. Keep your eyes and ears open for signs that a worker might be defying your authority. At the first sign of insubordination, make sure that you do not let it go unnoticed. Call the worker in for a private conversation, and explain that you feel that there is an issue with insubordination and that you would like to offer him or her a chance to explain the behavior. This serves two purposes. You are not being judgmental, but rather, you are sharing your understanding and seeking clarification. The other purpose it serves is that it gives the worker an opportunity to explain the other side of the story or to make changes in his actions without it becoming a public matter. You may even benefit from this approach in case you have had a role to play in triggering the insubordination.
Know your rights
Most company policies are clear on matters of insubordination. At the same time, most policies are equally clear about what constitutes abuse or unfair practices. Many companies provide detailed information on how to handle instances of defiance. Additionally, processes for redressing grievances are also usually clearly spelled out for all parties. Make sure that you are conversant with the policies and processes in this regard. This will help you assess the situation objectively, know your boundaries, and put you in a position not only to address the insubordination but also to guide and counsel the defiant worker to a correct and practical course of action.
Many instances of insubordination can be traced back to poor communication. You may be meaning well, but your communication: verbal and non-verbal, might be saying something altogether different. In addition, instances of insubordination can often be open to subjective interpretation. Make it a point to communicate clearly, seeking feedback if needed, to ensure that you are being understood. In the event of an insubordinate worker who continues to be hostile even after you have attempted to deal with the situation on a one on one basis, communicate your point of view in writing or in the presence of others so that it is not misunderstood.
The subjectivity of insubordination often leaves managers and leaders puzzled as to how to address the situation. The use of objective documentation is very important in such instances. Make sure you document everything that transpires between you and the defiant worker in clear and objective language. Avoid using words that describe feelings. Choose words that describe actions and behavior instead. Keep all your interactions documented through written communications. If there has been a hostile or defiant behavior, send the worker an email or a memo describing what happened and your views about it. These documented communications are useful in confronting the worker with his insubordinate behavior, and they can be crucial in protecting yourself in case the tables are turned against you.
Other side of the story
While there may be various reasons for insubordination, studies show that stress and unsatisfactory workplace environment are among the more common reasons for such behavior. Remember that the defiant worker is a human being just like you, and possibly has something else that is bothering him or her. The insubordination that you are witnessing might be the manifestation of stressed totally unrelated to you or the tasks that you have assigned to him. Speak with the worker at a human level, trying to understand what might be bothering him. While you might not be able to solve his or her problems, the very process of listening to him with compassion will help reduce the intensity of the stress and remove the need to act out in a hostile manner.