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Handling an “office sniper”

By Steve M. Cohen  bio

How do you stop the staff member who is rude and undermining?

This is a surprisingly widespread problem with several variations. It’s important that managers are prepared to deal with it, including cases where the opposition is not so obvious.

One example involves an “office sniper.” Snipers stay in hiding. They criticize the manager in a passive aggressive way instead of face-to-face.

During a meeting, the sniper says (just loud enough to be heard), “Be prepared for another useless edict.” Stop the meeting and address the sniper head on. Say, “(Name) has just said that you should be prepared for a useless edict. Can we get consensus on the matter? How many of you think this requirement is useless?” There is a slim chance that the rest of the staff will agree. If they do, revisit the matter. The sniper may have a point. Most of the time, however, there will not be a response. Then pounce: “Well, it looks like you are all alone on this one.”

If the remark is really over-the-top or rudely inappropriate, clear the room. Call for a 10-minute break, but tell the sniper to stay. Then, say frankly, “That was an inappropriate comment. It contributes to a breakdown in unit cohesion” or “It violates our values.” Then ask: “Is that how you meant it?” This works because the sniper has to hide behind something. Once pulled into the open, the protection is gone and the game is over. The sniper is not strong enough to attack you in the open.

Whenever possible, confront the sniper in private. Unless the sniping is done in public and you have no other environment in which to respond, a public put down can make the sniper even more hostile and perhaps aggressive, which will aggravate the situation. The goal is to convince this person that you “carry a big stick” and are not a passive target. Snipers will continue their behavior until somebody shuts them down.

It can take great inner strength to face down a sniper, but the showdown is necessary. When a staffer is that obnoxious or aggressive, the only solution is taking him or her on. Most management problems will not go away through neglect; in fact, they will get worse.

If the sniping behavior continues, treat it like any other disciplinary matter. Give a warning: “It is unacceptable to make hurtful or inappropriate comments. Our office has standards and expectations for professional treatment. Continue this behavior and further disciplinary action, up to and including termination will result.”

Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., CMC is President/Partner of Labor Management Advisory Group, Inc. and HR Solutions: On-Call, both based in Kansas City, MO. For more information, visit or call (913) 927-0229.

The above information is shared by a guest contributor and does not necessarily reflect the views of Medical Office Manager.









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