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Handling a Conflict Between Supervisors and Employees

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. And, knowing how to resolve that conflict is an important skill.

But what happens when a conflict is happening between a supervisor and an employee?

Even if your business is thriving, it’s important to not ignore the problem of conflict between a supervisor and an employee.

What is Conflict?

Let’s start with a basic understanding of what conflict really is. Of course, we’ve all seen conflicts happening in the workplace. And, we’ve seen the undesirable consequences as conflicts play out and aren’t appropriately resolved.

But what is conflict? Conflict can be described as an antagonistic state or action. Or, it can be described as a mental struggle from opposing needs or demands. There are many challenges of being a supervisor and resolving conflict is one of the most important ones leaders need to learn how to do.


Why Should I Care About Conflict?

Adults should be allowed to work out their own issues and come to appropriate resolutions. However, it’s important to not let conflict go on for too long.

After all, there are some consequences to conflict that can be detrimental. Unresolved conflict in the workplace can:

  • Cause People to Avoid One Another: If there’s unresolved conflict, people may resort to this. A manager cannot effectively supervise the team if he or she has a positive relationship with some team members, yet refuses to speak with others. Similarly, if an employee refuses to speak with his or her manager, this is reflective of a dysfunctional relationship. Avoiding an employee or a supervisor is a symptom of a bigger problem.
  • Decreased Morale: Working in an environment where an employee or group of employees aren’t in harmony with a supervisor can bring down productivity and teamwork. This can happen when employees don’t feel heard or don’t feel that their efforts or contributions are valued or acknowledged.
  • Difficulty Retaining Talent: If a supervisor lacks the ability to appropriately build relationships or maintain proper boundaries with employees, this can cause employees to leave the department or the organization. Every employee has the right to a respectful working environment.
  • Increased Absenteeism: Employees may not want to come to a workplace where conflict is not appropriately resolved.
  • Reputational Risk: If bad behavior is tolerated at your organization, this could potentially expose your company to bad press, investigations from regulatory organizations, or even lawsuits.

Conflicts between supervisors and employees are inevitable in any workplace. Differences in perspectives, work styles, and expectations can lead to misunderstandings and disagreements. However, effectively managing and resolving these conflicts is crucial for maintaining a positive work environment and ensuring team productivity.

Conflict Due to Leadership Styles

Conflict can arise if a supervisor lacks emotional intelligence. Not every employee is cut out to be promoted to a management position. Emotional intelligence is one of the traits that can help a person become an excellent supervisor. 

However, conflict can bubble up when a manager adopts the wrong management style. 

Employees may not always express their dissatisfaction, but some may. 

When a manager takes on a bad management style, employees may push back, and this can manifest itself as a conflict.

The Fault-Finder

Managers should provide feedback when an employee needs to change. However, smart managers know that it is important to discuss these things privately in order to avoid embarrassing an employee. Discussing performance issues in front of other employees is a recipe for disaster. And, if an employee feels that he or she is being targeted – that a manager is obsessed with targeting or fault-finding – this can create conflict.

Managers who choose to yell or shout at their employees inevitably create conflict. Rather than focusing on solutions and problem-solving, humiliating an employee will most certainly cause problems.

The Ghost Manager

A manager who is chronically unresponsive and unavailable can cause problems. Every manager is busy, but it is the responsibility of the manager to set expectations. It is also the responsibility of the manager to convey how and when he or she can be reached. In order to succeed, employees need supervisors who are available to help and support them when needed.

Managers who fail to set appropriate expectations or boundaries create confusion. This can create confusion about who on the team is really “in charge,” leaving employees to fend for themselves. 

A manager who constantly no-shows for team meetings or one-on-one conversations signals disrespect and a lack of fitness for a leadership role. Establishing expectations and communicating is the solution to this problem. 

The Micromanager

The micromanager can frustrate employees and get in the way of their progress. He or she requires constant updates for any minuscule part of a project. Micromanagers may get so obsessed with the “status updates” they need, that they get in the way of actual work getting done.

Micromanagers may resort to this style due to their own insecurity, or because their superiors may actually prefer this management style.

And, unfortunately, the micromanager can’t let go of an obsessive need for control, rather than focusing on developing their team’s potential for bigger growth.

Read: 7 Types of Supervisors and How They Lead


Conflicts Due to Employee Working Style

Noncompliant Employee

These are employees who, even though they may have a wealth of innovative ideas and a strong drive to achieve, conflict with supervisors due to their inability to follow instructions. They are characterized by their tendency to challenge the status quo and push boundaries. While these qualities can be valuable for driving change and innovation, they can also lead to clashes with managers and colleagues.

Noncompliant employees may resist authority and disregard established protocols. This can lead to conflicts with management and friction with team members who value structure and consistency.

The Lone Wolf

Lone wolves prefer to work independently and may struggle with teamwork or collaboration. They often have a strong sense of self-sufficiency and may resist efforts to integrate them into team projects or collaborative tasks. 

This resistance can create tension with managers who prioritize teamwork and with colleagues who rely on a collaborative approach to achieve project goals. The lone wolf’s isolationist approach can hinder communication and teamwork, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts within the team.

The Perfectionist

Perfectionists are employees who have an uncompromising approach to their work, striving for flawless results in everything they do. While their dedication to quality can be an asset, it can also become a source of conflict.

Perfectionists may have unrealistic expectations of themselves and others. This often leads to disappointment and frustration. Their reluctance to delegate tasks or accept work that meets the standard but does not exceed it can cause delays and strain relationships with managers, supervisors, and colleagues who may view their standards as impractical or obstructive.

The Socialite

Socialites are highly sociable employees who place great value on relationships and social interaction within the workplace. While they can contribute positively to building a friendly and cohesive team environment, their focus on socializing can sometimes detract from productivity.

Supervisors may find it challenging to keep socialites on task. Also, colleagues might be frustrated by their constant desire for interaction, feeling it interferes with work. Balancing the socialite’s need for interaction with the team’s productivity needs can be a delicate task.

The Critic

Critics are quick to point out flaws in ideas, processes, and the work of others. They often possess a sharp analytical mind and can contribute to improving quality and efficiency by identifying potential issues. However, when their criticism is constant and not constructively delivered, it can demoralize team members and lead to resentment.

Supervisors and leaders are usually responsible for offering feedback and criticizing the staff. Sometimes, this type of employee can clash because they are trying to do the job of the supervisor. Other things the conflict is because the feedback given contradicts the feedback of leadership. This makes it difficult for supervisors to get the most out of their team since other employees are getting conflicting feedback on what they should be doing.


Resolving Conflicts Between Supervisors and Employees


Understanding the Root Cause

The first step in resolving any conflict is to understand its root cause. Conflicts can arise from a variety of sources, including miscommunication, differences in work styles, personal issues, or unmet expectations. Both parties should take the time to reflect on the situation and identify the underlying issues that led to the conflict. This understanding forms the basis for open and constructive dialogue aimed at resolution.

Supervisors should utilize empathy and emotional intelligence when trying to understand the root cause of the issues. These issues are rarely black and white with a single source of blame. Supervisors need to be self-aware to know how they may contribute to the conflict.

Open Communication

Open and honest communication is the cornerstone of conflict resolution. Create a safe and neutral space for both parties to express their viewpoints and feelings without fear of judgment or retaliation. Encourage active listening, where each party listens to understand, not just to respond.

This approach helps to clear up misunderstandings, bridge gaps in communication, and foster empathy by allowing both sides to see the situation from the other’s perspective. One of the major strengths of a good supervisor is the ability to communicate. Even if the conflict started with the employee, supervisors need to take the initiative and be the catalyst for opening the lines of communication.


Focus on Solutions, Not Blame

Instead of dwelling on who is to blame for the conflict, focus on finding a solution that addresses the needs and concerns of both parties. Work together to identify potential solutions, and be open to compromise. It’s essential to approach the situation with a problem-solving mindset, looking for ways to move forward rather than getting stuck on past grievances.

Establish Clear Expectations and Agreements

Once a solution has been identified, it’s important to establish clear expectations and agreements to prevent future conflicts. This might include setting new guidelines for communication, adjusting work processes, or implementing regular check-ins to ensure that both parties feel supported and understood.

Documenting these agreements can help both supervisors and employees hold each other accountable and refer back to the agreed-upon solutions if similar issues arise in the future.

Seek Mediation if Needed

In some cases, conflicts may be too complex or entrenched for the parties involved to resolve on their own. In such instances, seeking mediation from a neutral third party within the organization, such as a human resources representative or a professional mediator, can be beneficial.

Mediation can provide an impartial perspective and facilitate a structured dialogue aimed at finding a resolution that is acceptable to both parties.


Confronting workplace conflict may seem like an unpleasant task, but it’s necessary. Conflict between an employee and a manager must be addressed in order to achieve the most positive, productive working environment. A manager can take the lead by using emotional intelligence and considering different management styles to boost morale and create the most positive work environment possible.

Also read:

Decision Making for Supervisors: 7 Steps for Improving This Skill

10 Mistakes New Supervisors Make and How to Avoid Them

What is the Difference Between a Manager and Supervisor?

Erin Shelby on TwitterErin Shelby on Wordpress
Erin Shelby
Team Writer: Erin Shelby is a writer and blogger based in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter @ByErinShelby

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Find Your Way · Grow Your Business · Leading Your Team

Team Writer: Erin Shelby is a writer and blogger based in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter @ByErinShelby

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