I am absolutely confidant, if you are an individual with a management position, you should be all too familiar with resolving conflicts involving direct reports. Sometimes, management receives a bad reputation. We are perceived as aloof, power-hungry individuals that are woefully disengaged from their staff. We wield our perceived power to make ourselves feel better and we have no clue about the work being performed around us. Honestly, some of us are just regular folk, straddling a fine line between company policy and managing a motley crew of employee personalities and behaviors. I have advanced my career throughout the years, starting as a laboratory assistant and achieving a position in lower tier management as a supervisor. I know a thing or two because I have seen a thing or two.
And while management may not be viewed positively by many, here is a newsflash, sometimes the staff can be pretty problematic and toxic too. As a leader, managing the core work is sometimes the easiest aspect of the job. Things become complicated when a challenging employee personality, bad behavior, and company rules collide. It is enough to drive a manager or supervisor insane. And if you are new to management, sometimes you have to learn to navigate this world through live-fire. Here, I wanted to share what I have learned throughout the years as a supervisor. It is not an exhaustive list, and if you are a manager reading this, please share some of your views that I may have missed. It is my hope that the following insight is helpful to someone.
- This first piece of advice cannot be overstated; it is absolutely paramount that a manager remain calm and refrain from fervent displays of agitation or direct anger towards a colleague. No doubt, depending on the specific circumstances, adhering to this task can be quite daunting. Nevertheless, given your position of authority, your standard of professional behavior is definitely and expectedly higher. In my particular case, speaking bluntly, I cannot afford outward displays of indignant belligerence as a black man – it’s not a good look. And that may sound cynical, but historical stereotypes of black men still exist today, therefore I am very cognizant of managing my temperament. A manager must remain measured and calm in the presence of direct reports.
- If you are delivering one-on-one coaching or disciplinary action, another colleague in leadership accompanying you in the room is highly recommended. Your immediate peer in leadership should be impartial and removed from the specific situation; acting only as a witness and perhaps as a buffer between the acting manager and colleague should the atmosphere becomes inflamed. If you feel your impending engagement has the potential of becoming hostile, recruiting assistance from your director/manager or even human resources may also be necessary.
- If the engagement becomes heated and not conducive to an actionable, constructive outcome; never be afraid to table the conversation and revisit the matter at another time.
- Maintaining a clear and fair thought process, it is important for you manage the situation and behavior – not the colleague. Hold on, wait, that does not make sense if you are “managing” colleagues. What I am saying is this: You must be separate the colleague from the issue that requires resolution; only acts or behavior should be addressed. It is wise to omit any personal opinions or views about said colleague. You should stick to the facts and only what can be proven. Clear any negative thoughts you may feel about the colleague and stick to the issue. Do not shift or allow the colleague to shift the conversation away from the issue at hand. Once you allow the conversation to stray from the subject being discussed, you will lose sight of the resolution that needs to be determined.
- A manager should never rush into conflict unprepared and off the cuff. You should take a moment to gather all pertinent facts before you begin the process of conflict resolution. If a colleague engages you for an immediate sit-down, your primary function is to listen and observe. This should be a part of your fact-gathering process. Thank the colleague for bringing the matter to your attention and convey that you will further investigate the incident.
- Document, document, document. It is important to keep detailed records of events and incidents. If you are meeting one-on-one, a summary of the meeting should be communicated to all involved parties. All details of the event in question should be recorded and kept on file.
- It would be wise to lean heavily into your company’s mission and core values to help guide you through managing a given situation. This harkens back to my previous advice of managing the situation and not the colleague. Your role as a manager or supervisor is to ensure that company policy is being recognized and followed. Your personal views are not your own. You are a representative of the company whose responsibility is to remind, enforce, and ensure company culture is being observed and practiced. You must provide clear and concise feedback that align with the company mission and vision. Also remember, you are in a position of authority, so consequences should be clearly conveyed.
- To be sure, managers or supervisors are not robots. We have emotions too. We have personal opinions. It is vital that we express those feelings regarding any particular circumstance. However, this expression is best suited for an audience outside of your employment. It’s best to save your raw, unfiltered observations for a spouse or significant other within the confines of your own home. Never vent or bad-mouth a subordinate to another subordinate. Never disclose personal, confidential information about a subordinate or anyone else. Do not broadcast grievances on social media. Do not utilize company technology such as e-mail or messaging to disparage colleagues.