Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Who Is Responsible For Resolving Contention At Work?

There is a reason referees, not the players, decide about plays during a game. “You two work it out” is almost never an effective way to handle contentious situations between employees. It can create even more problems for several reasons:

*It is unlikely that employees will have the skill, the will, or the capability to improve the situation. If they have the ability to resolve a serious problem they probably would have had the ability to avoid it in the first place.

*If there is clearly an aggressor that person will not see a need to change and the other person may not feel able to communicate directly about it.

*If an effort is made by one or both employees, but it doesn’t change the situation, the employees may feel justified in negative responses.

*The “solution” decided upon by employees may not be in the best interests of everyone involved or the overall work group or organization.

*A hands-off approach by a manager can leave an employee vulnerable to increased hostility and an escalation of the problem.

*In every case the manager or supervisor fails to fulfill an essential role: To develop and maintain a work place in which everyone can stay focused on work.

How to know there is a need for supervisory or managerial intervention:

  • You have observed or heard about an ongoing conflict between employees. (More than one or two incidents or only one incident that created a work disruption for the employees or others.)
  • Someone has hinted to you about it. If it matters enough to mention it to you, it matters enough for you to do something.

The bottom line: When there is a conflict, disagreement or a situation that is often frustrating or upsetting to employees or that stops or hurts work for anyone because of issues about it, it is time for a manager or supervisor to find out more and say or do something directly. The employees can be involved in the process but they should not be left to do it alone.

One thing is certain: There has been a management failure when employees start accepting a breakdown in civility, cooperation or effectiveness as normal for work or something they have to learn to work around or through on an ongoing basis.

A large part of a supervisor’s job–and certainly the task of a leader–is to identify problems and work with and through others to help solve them. Situations that keep employees from working well together are problems that require direct involvement by a supervisor. The task cannot effectively be delegated to employees–especially not to the employees involved.

April 5th, 2010 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Life and Work, Supervision and Management | 6 comments