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Frontline Supervisor: High-Conflict Employees

Frontline Supervisor: High-Conflict Employees

On 16 Nov 2014, in Management, coaching, Workplace

Q. I have two employees who experience a lot of conflict. I know I can refer them to BJC EAP or, if things get worse, threaten disciplinary action. What more can I do to motivate them to change their behavior?

A. Helping your employees manage conflict and find workable solutions to differences is an indispensable skill for a manager. Many managers insist that employees deal with conflict, but then do not provide a structure to make success more likely. Your employees will find solutions faster and keep agreements better when you require parties in conflict to produce a written agreement that summarizes the nature of their conflict and the agreed upon solution. Get commitment from your employees for being accountable in acting in accordance with the solution, then follow up. It’s easy for employees to fail at resolving conflict when they do not perceive a need to make compromises that an agreement may require. The result is often an unnecessary belief in the irreconcilable differences between two employees.

Q. Two groups of employees in our organization are in ongoing conflict. The negative impact on productivity is very clear. I know BJC EAP works with individual employees and coworkers in conflict, but what about larger "inter-group" conflict?

A. Examine the conflict between the two work groups, then meet with BJC EAP. Inter-group conflict may be fueled by organizational issues that members have little control over, specific underlying needs and personal issues of individual group members, or a combination of both. BJC EAP may be appropriate for any part of the conflict, or it may refer you to other intervention services within your organization. Discuss with BJC EAP the issues of the conflict, the fighting and making-up pattern between the groups, how they retaliate with each other, the role of individual employees and the degree to which employees feel fatigue. Bring these issues to BJC EAP. Together, you can identify a strategy for helping resolve the conflict.

Q. The past few years have been difficult between me and my employee. We have a very high-conflict relationship -- we snap at each other, we do not exchange civilities, and, frankly, I will fire him the next wrong move he makes. Any advice?

A. Talk to BJC EAP fast. The conflict between you and your employee is a risk issue for your organization, and it is a stressor that you must manage better. Unresolved and festering anger can be a hair trigger for violence, lawsuits, theft, property damage and productivity problems. Many supervisors treat ongoing mutual resentment between themselves and employees they supervise as personal matters, but in fact they pose risks for the organization. Between you and BJC EAP, decide on a course of mediation that will improve the relationship. You may feel it’s too late, but if you are willing to try, your employee may also participate. A meeting with BJC EAP will likely be attractive to your employee so he can vent and explain his side of the story. You may notice an immediate improvement in the interaction between you and your employee after these initial steps. But that won’t last long if you don’t pursue the opportunity for resolving your differences with the help of BJC EAP.

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