I'm looking for a word or phrase that questions authority but not to the point of open defiance. As an example:

Boss: I think my plan is the best plan and we're going with it.

Employee: Well, it may be the best plan, however, what about it makes it the best plan? What about other plans that haven't been looked at? Maybe we should look at them before making a decision.

In this scenario, the employee wasn't angry but also at the same time just didn't submit and go along with what the boss said (A.K.A. not a yes man).

  • Cautious? Patient? Considered? Deliberate? Systematic? What words have you already looked at but rejected, and why? Jul 26, 2018 at 6:05
  • 1
    It would be helpful if you provided a sample sentence showing how the word or phrase you're looking for would be used (with _____ where the word would go). This is actually a requirement for single-word-requests. Jul 26, 2018 at 6:39
  • "Questioning authority" does not have to be defiance? It depends on how the boss defines "defiance," not how the dictionary defines it.
    – Kris
    Jul 26, 2018 at 6:42
  • The problem is nobody will agree with you.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 16 at 19:11

3 Answers 3


I don’t know about single words, but perhaps you could describe such a person as someone who doesn’t take things at face value.


Referring to that employee as a skeptic or skeptical might be appropriate. There are a couple of caveats, though.

1) The original meaning of skeptic referred to a school of thought that questioned whether real knowledge was even possible. The scenario given in the question doesn't really go that far, but if the employee has a long history of asking for further analysis of plans drawn up by managers, the word might fit with one of its more contemporary interpretations.

2) Speaking of modern interpretations, the word skeptic has taken on a new shade of meaning. There is a certain brand of "skeptic" these days that denies, rather than questions, the existence of certain things. I'll avoid getting into any of that, but suffice it to say that the word has taken on a bit of a negative connotation.

Note also that the employee in the question isn't really questioning the authority of the boss, but is instead questioning the nature of the plan and the viability of other plans. The fact that it's the boss' plan seems secondary. If the employee was questioning the boss' authority, that might be something else. I might say that employee was undercutting, undermining, or maybe even back-biting.


If you want a verb, you might try "oppugn."

For adjectives, I can't think of anything precise, but you might try "contumacious" or "obstinate" (to imply stubbornness if not rebellion) or "refractory" (to imply a kind of troublesome independence).

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