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How to Deal With a Coworker Who Is Questioning My Authority

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If you're in a decision-making position where you issue directives to peers, but you don't hold a managerial role, it can be difficult to assert your authority over colleagues and co-workers. Likewise, if you do have direct reports, yet a colleague feels the need to question your authority and your role, it can cause conflict and friction. These issues need to be resolved to ensure that productivity and good working relationships continue.

Get Your Boss’s Verification

If your direct supervisor gives you a specific amount of authority over a project, a group of other staffers or some type of specific decision-making capability, have him verify your role for impacted staff members. For example, ask him to issue a simple memo or email to proactively handle confusion. “Effective immediately, Julie will proofread the reports each department turns in and ask you to verify information and provide additional documentation where necessary. Please give her your full cooperation in these efforts.”

Don't Overstep Your Bounds

Be specific when asserting your authority and don't ask staffers to do anything that’s not in line with their individual job descriptions. For example, if you have authority to evaluate expenditures in department reports, that doesn't necessarily give you the added authority to tell a co-worker to reevaluate her entire budget and make cuts. Stick specifically to what you have authority to do so you can defend your actions if a co-worker questions your authority.

Talk to Your Co-worker

If a co-worker questions your authority in front of colleagues, or worse, in front of a client or customer, it can make the entire company look unprofessional. Talk to the co-worker at a time when you can have privacy and when neither of you is angry or upset. Give specific examples of the troublesome behavior in your conversation. For instance, “Yesterday when I asked for your department report, you said you'd give it to my supervisor instead of me. It's my job to collect this information, and if you're not comfortable providing it to me, that's a discussion we need to have together with my superior.”

Deflect the Issue

Don't let a colleague frustrate you if you're trying to take care of business and she questions your right to perform your job responsibilities. For example, if you're collecting departmental reports, and she says, “I don't think we have to give you that information,” deflect the comment with a professional, “I'm just doing my job; if you have a concern about it, please take it up with my manager.”

Get Your Boss’s Help

If a colleague continues to question your authority even after your boss verifies that you have responsibilities that occasionally give you authority over your co-workers, take the issue to your manager much like you would any other dispute. For example, “I'm afraid I still can't convince Kim that she needs to give me her department reports. She seems to think I don't have the authority to collect the information. If you could talk to her about that, it would help me to do my job more efficiently.”


Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.

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