I'm wondering if anyone has any advice for the following situation:

I have a DR that is very technically competent but is also distainful and disrespectful of myself and others. He's abrupt and impatient with others and engages in childish responses like ignoring people or refusing to acknowledge them. He frequently snipes from a distance and makes himself unapproachable and unpleasant to communicate with when he disagrees with the topic at hand.

Overall, our organization is in good shape and works collaboratively, but folks that work with this DR on a regular basis are unhappy and I fear that his attitude is preventing many from reaching their potential. Some have cited this person as the one thing about their job that makes them think about moving on.

My boss acknowledges the problem, but doesn't support me doing anything about it. She tells me that she recognizes the negative behavior and the double standard that's created by allowing him to behave this way, but whenever I seek to address the situation she finds a way to excuse the behavior or reflect the situation onto another person.

Of course, my direct has a back-channel of communication to my boss that she does not discourage. He uses this when things don't go his way, and my boss will often give in or push the situation in his direction. Of course, I get stuck dealing with the aftermath.

Does anyone have any suggestions for a situation where one's boss is an enabler for a direct report's negative behaviors?

tlhausmann's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

When you observe behaviors affecting work performance provide feedback. "Snipe from a distance" and "attitude" are not observable behaviors.

You describe your DR as technically competent. Yet I'll bet his behaviors impact others insofar as his great ideas do not get heard at team meetings. You are responsible for addressing your direct's behaviors, not your boss.

Do you have one-on-ones with your directs?

Although the back-channel communication may complicate your efforts to improve behavior...your focus on behavior and job effectiveness will show. No matter what...stay professional.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Not really kidding, but that's what I would probably set out to do with someone like this.  Lest anyone think we're violating our own recommendations, I'd do it our way: I'd take 6 months and create a mountain of documentation.

And, as we have said many times, there are two reasons to fire folks: performance failures OR team destruction.  The opposite of one doesn't ameliorate the other.

So, start giving him feedback.  That doesn't require approval from your boss.  If he misbehaves, pointing it out is unlikely to create problems between you and your boss.  If it does, it's because either your boss is unscrupulous - unlikely - or your direct is essentially misrepresenting your corrective interactions.  In order to mitigate that, be ready to share with your boss exactly what you said, and how you said it.  Keep notes.  Repeat verbatim.  this will require you to master the feedback model.  MASTER it.  Please focus on behavior - not evident from your post.

And why are you talking to your boss about problems with your direct?  He messes up, you talk to him.  No boss involved.

For what it's worth, the Systemic Feedback model was designed to address a problem that started exactly like yours.  You're going to have to go there if things don't improve.  Master that too.

And please do One on Ones.  They'll help, however slightly, the relationship  which you're about to strain.

kevin_cross's picture

I would start building a pile of evidence, his behavior will change, or he'll get himself fired.

bug_girl's picture

Mark Said:


"And why are you talking to your boss about problems with your direct?  He messes up, you talk to him.  No boss involved."


I have two people in late-stage coaching right now (one is definately on the way out; other may work out), and it takes a LOT of my time to keep an eye on them and document everything, as well as extra meetings and conferences with HR. Within that context, I have to let my boss know that it's making demands on my time and keeping me from doing other things.

fr_jim's picture

Two problems emerge from this situation: (1) your DR's inappropriate behavior, and; (2) Your boss' interference with your supervision.  The first is definitely something you can attempt to manage.  The second is complicated and may require you to do some hard thinking.  Any boss that interferes with my role as a supervisor places me in an extremely awkward position.  Can't speak for you, but this speaks to trust to me...and if my boss has issues with trusting me, they need resolution.  A meddling boss is a non-starter for me, so you might consider looking for a more positive working environment.  If you must stick this out, I would consider a "heart-to-heart" with the boss to clear the air and establish healthier boundaries in managing your team.

drbuchanan's picture

As a boss, I suggest that you make sure that you have not created a reason for distrust before you confront him about his behavior. Communication is always a two way street and the boss should make sure that he/she is communicating their expectations, you have the same responsibility.  I am sure that you have not withheld information from the boss but in the past, that has been the biggest barrier to communication in my organization (a small doctors office)

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

I completely agree with your post, Bug_Girl.  I think my post wasn't clear.  I see talking to a boss BEFORE a feedback discussion COMPLETELY DIFFERENTLY than reporting regularly to a boss in a Late Stage Coaching situation (which of course has org implications).  I would definitely recommend you continue to do what you're doing.... and yet I still believe involving the boss in routine feedback is terribly inefficent and usually ineffective.

bug_girl's picture

Ok, never mind! :)

(Does anyone besides me remember Emily Litella from SNL?  OMG, that was 1975? Sigh.)