Dealing with disrespect


I have just been promoted as a manager. Most of my employees appear to be happy for me. However, there is an older lady who has a reputation for stirring things up among people who seems to dislike me. I do not know what to do about her. Please advise me.

Eve, Singapore

Rob Yeung's Answer:

Disrespect is an interesting concept. Because disrespect occurs purely in the eye of the beholder. It doesn't matter what you have or have not done. If people feel disrespected, that is their reality that's the way they feel.

So this older woman may not like you because she may feel aggrieved in some way. Perhaps she feels that she has been disrespected because you got promoted over her maybe she feels she has better skills or experience. Or maybe there is some other reason.

However, you can't know the reason unless you ask her why. The last thing you may want to do is to speak to her, but I'm afraid that is probably the best thing for this situation.

Arrange to meet with her privately, one-on-one in a quiet location. She may resist the idea of spending time with you, so be persistent and patient but do keep asking until she accepts your offer to meet for a chat. Ideally, try to take her out of the office perhaps for a sandwich lunch, a coffee, or a drink after work somewhere quiet and away from the prying eyes and ears of colleagues.

When you meet, tell her that you're trying to do the best as a new manager but that you feel that she isn't entirely happy with you. Use "I feel" statements (e.g. "I feel that you aren't happy with me") rather than "you" statements (e.g. "you have been stirring things up") because the former sound far less accusatory. Then invite her response. Allow her to vent her frustrations.

It's difficult to predict what she may say. Some people feel better just for the fact that they have had the discussion. Others may feel so hurt by some imagined slight that they may never warm to you. But the first step is certainly to have the open conversation and find out the issues. You can only deal with what you know about.

Open dialogue and a big dose of empathy is a great start whatever the issues. I wish you the best of luck.


About our Expert

Rob Yeung
Rob Yeung

Dr Rob Yeung is a Director and executive coach at leadership consulting firm Talentspace. He is the author of over a dozen career and management books including How to Win and I is for Influence.

Older Comments

I am generally in agreement with the response given by one of your readers. However, I do not believe it would be a good idea to practically force this lady to discuss her issue with you. I believe that those who are true leaders impact others by the attitudes they exhibit. If the new manager shows integrity and honesty and treats her with respect, courtesy and appreciation, regardless of how she feels about him, she will eventually come to understand and appreciate him.

Vincent K. Lynch

Trying to attempt to have a conversation may only make things worse. When I was in similar situation, the person told me they wanted to make a list so that all items/issue would be discussed. When I followed up, they did not want to discuss at all! When it was time for first review, they flat out told me I was not qualified to be a manager (I was peer promoted to manager, so of course I was finding rhythm-I did not expect to have it all in place but apparently they thought so) and that I should just know what they were thinking, feeling, etc. I am not a mind reader-I can not diagonse and fix if I do not have all the info.

dayspring US

After trying unsuccessfully to resolve several issues with my own Coworker - now subordinate - from Hell (CFH), I tried this approach. It didn't work. When I tried to discuss specific behaviors or incidents involving other employees, the CFH responded by stating that he could spend all day making a list of things that I do wrong. He brought up several instances of incidents involving me that happened well over a year ago. He even brought up something that I said to him on my first day on the job almost 2 years ago. He got so worked up that I had to end the meeting early because he was in no condition to talk further. I don't think I can take this same approach a second time around.


Louis USA-CA

Sounds like she resents the fact that someone younger than her got the job.

Don Smitson

Dear Dr. Yeung,

I think in ordinary, day-to-day life, having a positive dialog with an employee and using tools like active listening is a wonderful thing. But, in this case, I have to agree with many of the other posters who say that this approach will not work, because the older lady in your example is not behaving in an “ordinary” manner. In fact, she’s feeling so slighted that she’s probably trying to get Eve fired.

I have seen this happen first-hand.

I believe what would be useful and complementary to your advice is this: when you have tried to talk to an employee and they seem bent on destroying your career because they have an axe to grind with the company, what is the best approach to talking to management about them? Or more precisely, what is the best method of getting rid of them? And, if management is unwilling to do anything (and in many cases, they are unwilling to do anything because they haven’t had the training to know what to do), then what?

Sincerely, Michael Todaro, Vancouver

Michael Todaro

Generally people who disrespect others are angry. That anger exists because of anxiety, but most importantly because their needs in life are not being met. Instead of taking that anger and doing something constructive with it they are dumping it on others, and making it their problem instead of being assertive with the anger in a way that doesn't hurt others. My brother is a pretty angry guy and tends to dump it on me a lot because he's the type of person who worries a lot about small things in life. When someone disrespects you the best thing you can do is talk to them about it and find the source of their anger. If they refuse to cooperate it may be a good idea to evacuate yourself from the negative energy they are creating.


The one time I was severely disrespected was by a VP of Sales from my old company. He basically singled me out in front of my co-workers asking me obscure questions like a pop quiz. This was my first day meeting this son of a b. so I was quite stunned, and I was a relatively new employee. I responded that I didn't know the answer, and then he told me to start studying and 'stop watching cartoons' (verbatim). To this day it makes my blood boil, never in my life had someone said something so out of line. I shouldn't have bit my tongue either, I found out thought that he was recently fired, so I guess what goes around, comes around. Still it's very insulting and a slap in the face when someone senior to you makes those comments.

Valentina Sausalito, CA

I work at the State Pen as a correctional officer. Not quite my dream job, but it's a pay check, the job security is great and so are the benefits. In this economy, there's always going to be criminals. But, I have dreams of doing somehting else with my life down the road. Anyway, I work in the control center pushing all the buttons to open the unit doors as well as the cell doors. I have 2 guys working on the floor who deal directly with the inmates. I know what it's like working the floor directly with inmates because I've done it before. The control center is where I work. Even though i'm away from the thick of the action, i'm still responsible for a lot. My primary responsibility is the safety of my officers on the floor. My floor officers disrespect me ALL THE TIME. Most of the time I don't let it bother me because I'm a proud guy, accomplished, and enjoy life to the fullest. They call me queer, retarded, a virgin, baby, etc. I usually just let it slide because I think they're trying to ellicit a resonse from me. At fisrt, I replied with insults and cursing and that doesn't work. One of them, I had a bad history with. I got into prior altercations with because I don't operate the unit to his liking all the time. sometimes, I've been lenient with the doors and it led to dangerous situations before cuz I've trusted those guys to control everything on the floor. I decided to be completely 100% by the book when operating the unit because my floor officers disrespect me so much that it is making it unsafe in the unit. There are other guys who do prank calls on me all the time too. Especially from guys I went to BASIC with. i just hang up on em. Not that disrespect affects me on a personal level. i've been dealing with since I was little. (I always got picked last, so whatever.) Pretty much, I learned to be more resilient to it. I figure it's human nature. But, if you're woking my unit and your differences with me affect the overall mission and operation, then we're going to have problems. That's all I got.

C.O. M

I disagree. This has happened to me. When I finished management training, I was given a store in which the top sales person was an employee that I had trained from her very first day at a different store. She was extremely angry and about a week in, confronted me and TOLD me that SHE should have gotten the job and she was PISSED. I took her out of the store and talked to her, I was respectful to her, listened to her and did everything by the book, but she, unbeknowst to me, was on the phone, behind my back, calling the regional sales manager, feeding her lies and making it seem as if the store was barely running for over 8 mos before she finally got me fired. But to my face she was all charming, and laughing and making it seem as if everything was alright. In hindsight, I would tell ANYONE in this position that when you take over, if you have a problem, immediately start DOCUMENTING any and every reason you can to fire this person, so that when push comes to shove, you already have a solid base from which to do it, legally. She was listened to because she was the top salesperson in the store. However, she never did anything I asked her to do, and I could have gotten her on that. Wrote her up and made her life as much hell as she had been making mine right back. I feel that allowing this sort of disrespect to go on as I did, trying to make light of it and work with it, was definitely the wrong approach. Your gut KNOWS when someone doesn't like you....don't ever underestimate their ability to mess with you and your career. Because the minute you do, they WILL.