Supervisor Newsletter - November 2018

Knowing When to Intervene in Workplace Conflicts

Most supervisors know conflict is normal in the workplace, and responding to conflict is part of a supervisor’s job, but there are important guidelines. Read the latest issue of the PAS Supervisors Newsletter to understand when to intervene and when to let employees work out conflicts.

When employees are in conflict, it can disrupt workflow and group harmony, but should supervisors intervene in every instance? Can you offer guidelines for deciding when to take control of a situation and step in?

Most supervisors know conflict is normal in the workplace, and responding to conflict is part of a supervisor's job, but there are important guidelines. It is not necessary to intervene in every conflict. On the contrary, it is usually better to leave employees alone and let them work it out. If supervisors involved themselves in every conflict, they would likely create more of them because it would send a message that employees need not cooperate, compromise, or work out power struggles with each other and instead let you work it out. These relationship skills can be undermined by the authority of a manager. A better tactic is often to monitor what is taking place. So, when should you intervene? Intervene when the issues pose some sort of larger risk to the organization, as in the case of harassment, discrimination, or potential for violence. Hold employees responsible for resolving conflicts. Never let them perpetuate. PAS can be a resource for supervisors when conflicts remain unresolved and you decide to speed up resolution by referring employees for additional help or getting a supervisor consult for more resources.

I have an open-door policy. I let my employees know they can come to me at any time to share concerns or problems. I rarely get visitors; so, is that a sign everything is going well?

Well, maybe. An open-door policy encouraging workers to visit and discuss issues and concerns requires more than simply a door swung open. You must also have a psychologically safe workplace. A psychologically safe workplace naturally encourages employees to stick their necks out, approach you, and take advantage of what you are offering. They do so because they are confident they will not be rejected or punished for admitting a mistake, bringing a complaint, asking a question, or offering a new idea. Help employees feel respected, accepted, and comfortable at all times. Model this to others. The bottom line is: How you interact with employees outside your office will determine whether they will walk through your open door later.