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Don’t let conflict become a schoolyard squabble

by on
in Your Office Coach

Q: “Ever since I was promoted, one of my former co-workers has refused to acknowledge that I am now her supervisor. Because she is friendly with my boss, ‘Anna’ takes all her questions and concerns to him instead of me. This power struggle has been going on for two years.

“I’m so disgusted with Anna that I have a hard time controlling my temper. I know that I’m letting her push my buttons, but I don’t want to just ‘roll over’ and accept her backstabbing ways. If I change my attitude towards her, I’m afraid she will feel that she has won this battle.

“At the same time, I’m acutely aware that my inability to work with Anna has cast me in an unfavorable light with management. How do I solve this problem?” Tired of Fighting

A: Sadly, you have allowed Anna to engage you in a self-destructive game. By participating in this childish schoolyard squabble, you have completely abdicated your leadership role and lost credibility with management. To recover, you must take three steps.

First, remove words like “battle” from your mental vocabulary. This is not a war, and Anna is not your enemy. She is merely a difficult employee. As her manager, your job is to help her be successful, no matter how annoying she is.

Next, ask your boss to put you back in the supervisory loop. For example: “I would like to improve my relationship with Anna, but she usually takes her concerns directly to you. If you could refer her back to me about work issues, that would give me a chance to be a better supervisor.”

Finally, having shifted your own mindset, invite your adversary to do the same: “Anna, the tension in our relationship really hurts the whole department, so I’d like to see if we can put this conflict behind us and learn to work together. As your supervisor, what can I do to be more helpful to you?”

Anna will not magically transform into a new person overnight, but if you consistently act like a mature manager, things should gradually improve. Just remember that your attitude is the only aspect of this situation over which you have complete control.

Have a difficult employee? You might find them here: Seven Employees That Drive Managers Crazy.

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