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Approaching a Conflict between an Employee and Yourself

Confronting someone you supervise because the two of you are in conflict isn't fun, yet it’s a necessary part of being a manager. When you’re meeting about a conflict that you’re directly involved in, and that meeting is with one of your subordinates, you need to adapt your approach. Here’s how:

  • Keep in mind that, even though the person you’re addressing is below you on the organizational chart and you may not want to give her concerns credence, the two of you are in this conflict together. Only you, as a duo, can choose to resolve the conflict in a positive way — a way that reflects well in the eyes of other team members and upper management. It takes two to tango and two to untangle; you need each other.

  • Put yourself in your employee’s shoes and think about how you’d want your boss to approach you about your communication style or your integrity. Especially if you were in conflict with your boss and had your own opinions about her ability to treat others well or her attitude toward staff. You’d probably want to speak in private, in a neutral place, with enough time to allow each of you an opportunity to share your concerns and desires about these touchy subjects. You’d probably also want her to have done a little contemplating before she even asked you for a meeting. You’d want her to consider the situation from your point of view, and figure out exactly what she wants so she doesn’t “um” and “er” her way through the discussion. Then you’d want her to be prepared to propose solutions that meet both your needs, not just hers.

  • Set a goal for the discussion that allows the employee to get back on track and motivated to reach team goals. Keep her focused on what’s going well and what needs to be improved. Then be open to hearing what she has to say. If her ideas don’t lead to the outcomes you want, you can always be more direct later in the conversation, but initially see if she has any ideas about resolving whatever problems the two of you are having. Let her be a part of the solution so she has more buy-in and follows through with whatever pledges you make to each other.

  • Think about your part in the trouble. Being at odds with a subordinate is frustrating. Oftentimes, putting the entire responsibility for the problem on the employee is easier than taking personal responsibility — especially if you’re genuinely unaware of the negative impact that particular words or actions may have on him.

    Being open to addressing your own behavior helps you create a management style that brings out the best in your employee, instead of resorting to playing the power card and insisting that she do everything your way “because you said so.” Don’t, however, own up to anything if you don’t know what you’re supposed to own up to.

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