How to Handle a Junior Colleague Who Undermines Your Authority

What is a Junior colleague

Having your authority challenged by a junior colleague can be frustrating as well as humiliating. In addition, what is initially an annoyance can quickly become a threat to your job security.  

Do you have a junior colleague who makes it a point to humiliate you and pass it off as a joke? Are you faced with a subordinate who undermines you every chance he or she gets?

Overconfident and overly ambitious junior colleagues are toxic to the workplace and no matter how helpless they make you feel, there are tactics that you can use to put a stop to it and possibly even redirect them.

When a Colleague Undermines You

First, you need to keep a record of all undermining behavior. Your junior colleague may begin by making inappropriate jokes or using sarcasm, which can quickly escalate into direct criticism of you, your skills, or your management style.

It is critical to keep a written record so that you have it documented before you confront the junior colleague. In addition, should the situation escalate, you need to be prepared with evidence for your own colleagues and superiors.

When a junior colleague undermines his or her superior, it is very similar to what a bully does to the shy kid on the playground. Often these people are all show and no action.

If you write down specific dates and instances of this inappropriate behavior, you will be able to effectively back the junior colleague into a corner during the meeting.

It is more difficult to deny what is in writing and you taking this action may be enough to make the ambitious junior colleague think twice before engaging in this behavior again.

Consult with a Senior Colleague or Human Resources

There are many good reasons to be concerned when a junior colleague is undermining your authority. In addition to creating a negative environment at work, this behavior can worsen and possibly threaten your job security.

Consult with another senior Colleague or the human resources department.

Make others aware of the junior colleague’s behavior. Ask a senior colleague to be a witness to this undermining behavior and ask for feedback to verify that you are not overreacting.

When a junior colleague is overly ambitious, his or her behavior can leave you feeling helpless. It gets in the way of job productivity and you may feel as if others are losing respect for you as well.

It is important to stay strong. Bring in a senior partner or human resources to support you.

Related: Managing Difficult Employees and Disruptive Behaviors

Engage your colleagues as witnesses to this behavior and ask them to document what they observe. Gather evidence so that you are prepared to take action if the junior colleague continues undermining your authority.

Address Undermining Behavior

There may come a time when you have no choice but to address the junior colleague directly. If he or she continues to belittle you or undermine your authority on a regular basis, you need to address it.

Prepare for your meeting with your notes as well as documentation of his or her attitude or incidents that crossed the line. If you have an eyewitness account, you need this file as well.

Begin the meeting by sharing your concerns. Do not make it personal. Even though the junior colleague’s undermining behavior is hurtful, focus more on the distractions to co-workers and the negativity in the work environment.

Remember that your goal is to get your junior colleague to stop. Take a firm tone and clearly define your expectations. No matter how this junior colleague has made you feel, keep it professional and remember that you are in charge.

Addressing your expectations is an important step towards eliminating this behavior. Sometimes a junior colleague feels insecure or resentful that you have a higher position and he or she may not be thinking it through.

Having a meeting could be the thing that nips it in the bud and makes your subordinate aware that the behavior is unacceptable in the workplace.

Try to Get the Junior Colleague on Your Side

When you schedule a meeting with your junior colleague, it may help if you listen to his or her feelings too.

It could be that this person misunderstood something you said or maybe he or she is anxious to be promoted. People respond well when you listen to them and you may learn what is causing the problem.

Read also: 11 Warning Signs Your Boss Is Gaslighting You at Work

Think about what good qualities your junior colleague has and be sure to point them out.

If his or her undermining behavior is arising out of insecurity, this insecurity can be squashed when you point out the ways in which he or she is an asset to the company.

Start the meeting with words such as “We really admire your…” Fill in the blank with whatever quality it is that you want to recognize.

This little bit of recognition can go a long way toward redirecting the arrogance into productivity at work.

Schedule Follow-up Meetings

If your meeting successfully brings about a change in your junior colleague’s behavior, you need to put it behind you but be wary of the possibility of it returning.

Now that you have solved the initial problem, it is up to you to make sure that the junior colleague continues to be respectful and productive at work.

You should schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss progress and job performance. When there is a follow-up meeting scheduled, the junior colleague may think twice before being rude or undermining your authority.

Having the meeting on the calendar will help to keep the junior colleague focused and on track.

Managing Ongoing Issues

No matter how hurtful and debilitating it is to have a junior colleague who is undermining your authority, you must stay strong and manage each act of insubordination as swiftly as possible.

Take a firm tone but never lower yourself to the junior colleague’s level. Do not share how it makes you feel; use phrases such as “This does not happen here” or “I need you to stay focused on your job, not mine.”

Each time that you address these issues, try to incorporate praise into the conversation. You can tell the junior colleague that you value his or her research skills, determination, or any other skill you can think of.

Try to use praise to redirect the junior colleague back to what he or she does well. Never be afraid to make it clear that you have authority but do not make empty threats.

The Last Resort

If you have done everything that you can possibly do to try to bring this junior colleague around, you may have no alternative but to escalate the matters to the point where the person can be disciplined.

Nobody wants to be responsible for another person losing his or her job but you cannot do your job successfully with a junior colleague regularly undermining you and embarrassing you. This behavior is distracting and reduces productivity in the workplace.

It can lead to much worse situations and potentially threaten your job security.

Read More: How to Deal with Employees Who Don’t Follow Instructions

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