How to Manage People who Resist Authority

In carrying out their duties, managers have to adapt to different types of personalities… including some who invariably challenge their authority. How is the problem to be addressed? We discussed it with Éric Provencher, CHRP and organizational psychologist at HUMANA Conseil.

First of all, when we are speaking about employees who pathologically challenge authority, “we are not talking about an occasional challenge,” explains Éric Provencher, “but a systematic and irrational questioning of authority.” It is an unpleasant attitude that harms the working atmosphere, including by increasing the risks of conflicts, sick leave and resignations.

But what are the personality types in question? And how are they to be managed?

The paranoid

Considering his superiors as exploiters, the paranoid employee demonstrates an attitude of distrust and confrontation towards authority. To manage it, routinization behaviours are to be preferred, such as explaining in advance the reasons for a decision.

The narcissist

While the paranoid sees enemies everywhere, the narcissist is everywhere! Convinced about his greatness, he considers himself to be above authority. “We then have to adopt a low profile (toning down),” Éric Provencher explains, “by shutting down his own accomplishments, or by making factual and sincere comments, devoid of superlatives.”

The antisocial

For the antisocial, rules do not exist. Faced with this denial of authority, it is best to resort to neutralization, a mode of management that is both distant and diffuse. Applying procedures firmly and in a detached manner is a step in this direction.

The passive-aggressive

Certain that his superiors have misjudged his abilities, the passive-aggressive resists authority in a roundabout way (avoidance, procrastination). Here, the best option is systematization, setting up systems that, among others, allow checks of tasks performed and attendance at work.

Also, in order to stem the emergence of deviant behaviours, Éric Provencher advises applying the following tips: keeping emotions under control; having well-defined goals and rules; having regular individual meetings; using a behavioural intervention process (to modify undesirable behaviour); and writing, if necessary, a moral contract or a support plan.

Finally, he encourages HR professionals to get to know each other well in order to intervene better: “They may wonder if the employee reminds them of someone they have had difficulties with in the past. If yes, why? And what do they need now?”

Above all, do not hesitate to seek the help of a mental health specialist… because everyone has the right to be happy at work!

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