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What Should the Manager Say to an Employee Who Is Insubordinate?

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Insubordination occurs when employees disregard or simply refuse to carry out reasonable orders from a supervisor. This is difficult for most managers to face, since it requires confronting disruptive behavior and potentially terminating a worker who doesn't shape up. However, ignoring insubordination isn't a realistic or productive option. Employees are expected to accept their roles, conduct themselves in a professional manner, and learn the potential consequences of picking and choosing which work rules they intend to obey.

Learn How to Define Insubordination

You usually need to consider three elements before disciplining someone for insubordination, according to "Business Management Daily." You must show that the employee understood the order, that the order was in line with his normal duties, and that he had no grounds for not carrying it out. That's why you must give orders as unambiguously as possible. For example, say, "I want you to do this" instead of, "Can you do this?" Otherwise, a worker could argue that he wasn't obligated to act right away, nor complete the task.

Be Specific in Describing Problems

When you're ready to intervene, call a closed door meeting to explain why the behavior is insubordinate. Force the employee to examine his conduct by using non-emotional, objective language to describe it, career writer Paul Falcone says in a column for Mott Community College. For example, if a worker is always missing deadlines, ask him: "Is it appropriate for me to ask why your projects aren't done on time? Isn't it your responsibility to stay on top of the schedule?" This approach minimizes an employee's ability to deflect blame, and signals why you're unhappy.

Keep Control of the Conversation

Don't let an employee's reactions divert you from trying to change his behavior. It's not unusual for difficult employees to say nothing in a meeting, according to the website. When this situation occurs, use open-ended questions to elicit a response. Ask, "How do you feel so far about what we've discussed?" If you don't get a response, wait 15 seconds, and repeat the question. If the employee still doesn't talk, express your disappointment, but note all his verbal and nonverbal reactions in documenting your interactions with him.

Set Clear Boundaries and Consequences

As your meeting ends, explain any disciplinary actions that you'll take, and the consequences of not changing unacceptable behavior. For example, if you're dealing with an employee who's using profane language, you might say: "If this behavior persists, you'll be written up and suspended without pay for 'x' number of days, or weeks." Employees who require more intensive follow-up can be placed on a performance improvement plan. In other cases, termination is the only realistic alternative. Whatever action you take, it's important that you let problem workers know ahead of time what to expect.


Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.

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