Questions & Answers
Q: Are there any resources at the U we can send employees to help with their self-assessment of how they deal with conflict? Something the supervisors can add to a workplan to accomplish?
A: Instead of a self-assessment, just having the self-awareness of being a conflict seeker or avoider is a good first step. The important aspect of dealing with conflict is to enhance the skills that are featured in Module 3:
- knowing when to get involved
- managing emotions
- building trust
- seeking solutions
These skills can be placed into a workplan as goals.
Q: Can you speak to direct/indirect and expressive/reserved conflict styles?
A: As a supervisor it's important to be mindful of your style and how you handle conflict, your personality, and how you express yourself (introverted, extroverted) and then think about the people reporting to you. Are they reserved, quiet, introverted, but you're the opposite? You'll want to think about creating an environment that is comfortable for those who are quiet to encourage them to speak up vs someone who is expressive and assertive. Be aware of times where you might need to "tone it down" if it's making other people uncomfortable.
Q: Can you speak to the question of when a supervisor should intervene in a conflict? When should two parties be encouraged to "work it out" and when should a manager mediate?
A: A supervisor should get involved with conflict if it is interrupting you or your team's work, if it's disruptive and counterproductive, or if the direct reports' behavior is inconsistent for how they are to get their work done. Additional information can be found in the "Knowing When to Get Involved" quick guide. Encouraging two parties to "work it out" can be effectively managed through coaching by equipping people with the tools, knowledge, and opportunities they need to develop themselves and become more effective. Please review Module 1: Feedback & Coaching for more information.
Q: Do you have any advice for how to handle people who tend to take credit for other people's work?
A: It's tempting to call out the person right away, but it's better to take a step back and assess the situation. It's common to feel like someone is "stealing your thunder" but often it's not their intent or perhaps they're unaware of how you feel about what they said. Instead of making accusations, ask questions to find out a colleague's intent and make them aware that you noticed what they said. If this conversation doesn't remedy itself, bring the issue to your supervisor.
Q: How do you get someone who will come to you as a manager with an interpersonal conflict but is unwilling to address the conflict directly with the other person. Would you role-play here too?
A: Role playing is definitely an effective exercise, especially when a person is too shy or unwilling to address conflict directly. By role-playing, it can help the person become more comfortable with their messaging and what they want to convey.
Q: What about managing conflict between employees managed by different supervisors? Since both supervisors need to support their respective employees should they have a group meeting? Let them resolve it by themselves? Collaborate with other supervisor? What is the best practice?
A: Ideally the supervisors would coach their direct reports to work it out themselves, so it's best to start there rather than jumping in and trying to fix the issues for them. If the supervisors find themselves in disagreement with each other, then it is important to have a conversation about this and come to an agreement on how to address the conflict.
Q: What about triangulation? We have a person who never brings issues to their supervisor. They try to resolve the conflict using a colleague of the supervisor. How do you manage the person going to another source?
A: This is so common and is really problematic. The best thing to do is to have a conversation with your colleague about how this dynamic is undermining your ability to be an effective supervisor. Help them understand that when they try to help that person they're actually making things worse. It's okay for them to listen to the person but then encourage them to come back to you about what to do. Then, have a conversation with your supervisee to make sure they bring their questions or concerns to you first. Ask what is making them hesitant to do that? Is it that the other person is more sympathetic?
Q: When would it be necessary to bring in EOAA or more central resources to resolve conflict in a unit?
A: It depends on the type of conflict and there are a few options you can explore at the University.
- Consult with your local HR team.
- Contact the Office for Conflict Resolution when you don't know where to go for help, your efforts to resolve the situation have been unsuccessful, or you are uncomfortable addressing the situation directly.
- Contact the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) to investigate complaints involving discrimination or harassment.