Conflict Strategies

Getting back on track after sorting things out in my day-to-day life. The exhaustion, doctors appointments and inability to concentrate on a darn thing is passing and I’m getting back to being the busy, crazy life I’m used to. I will be posting this weeks assignments this weekend to stay on track, but welcome your comments and feedback as I catch up on posting afterwards as well!

This week’s topic is extremely timely in my professional life. We have been working with an employee that has had repeated disagreements, conflicts and issues with us. As her supervisor, I have tried to work with her and coach her. Some of her biggest red flags have been:

  • Scheduling – This employee constantly has special scheduling requests. She rarely works the schedule we hired her for and need her to work between special time requests or requests for time off. At one point, the employee was submitting requests for time off on a monthly basis that included 4-5 days off each month, typically one or two per week. I’m sure so many of you can appreciate how challenging that is for us as administrators, for her co-workers and most importantly for the children in the program.
  • Supervision/Room Arrangement –  This employee consistently disregarded the regulations – the children would walk to their cubbies unsupervised, down to use the bathrooms unsupervised and often would not position herself in the classroom space so that she was able to supervise and keep clear sight on each child. We offered training, scheduled webinars, did training and education for all staff at a staff meeting, worked with the staff member on room arrangement suggestions and though some areas improved, it was evident that when she was following the rules, she was doing it because she had to or was being watched, not because she believed in or wanted to follow those rules. Most of the time improvements would last for 2 weeks and go right back to the old ways.
  • Behavior Concerns –  With our program and program goals, we aim to build their confidence and teach leadership and character values as part of our curriculum as well as utilize a Positive Behavior approach with a Program Wide PBIS system in place. After some observation and feedback, we attempted to coach the employee on ways she can contribute to a less stressful classroom. Things like teacher tone/yelling, being mindful of her comments about or towards the children, reviewing expectations, setting the classroom/children up for success, keeping things consistent and following the appropriate schedule, not rearranging the room and materials multiple times per week etc were all reviewed and tools were provided that she requested to achieve these goals.

After we began giving this employee any kind of constructive criticism or feedback that required an adjustment of any kind, wasn’t able to approve some of her time off requests OR required holding her accountable for violating any procedures or policies (feeding children candy or off-menu items, dress code, attendance, etc), we were met with attitude and resistance. Ultimately we completed her last review this past week, which was an extremely low score and a consistent decline in evaluated performance. At the same time, three parent complaints rolled in on the same day and we were given a report from another parent about information they learned about the employee from her past that reflected extremely poorly on her character and was not disclosed upon her hire.

Considering the systematic decline in performance, her difficulty scheduling and working her hired shift, her behavior and insubordination and the concerns from clients, we came to the ultimate decision that we were going to cut ties with this employee this past week because we were confident that we did everything in our power to help the employee and set her up for success. When we met with her, she (understandably) was emotional, but claimed she “saw this coming” because she felt like she was being pushed out (a result of us holding her accountable for policies). She also asked for examples, of which our HR Manager reviewed two, however we noted that much of this wasn’t new. She was given feedback and we’ve reached out to try to resolve issues or make things better with solutions over the past five months only to be met with unwillingness or resistance to the feedback and that all of the examples she needs can be found in any of her evaluations which she has a copy of. She noted that evaluations are “just an opinion” that she doesn’t agree with her evals. I noted that they are an opinion, however they are the opinion of her supervisors and boss based on their expectations and the program standards.

Some of the concepts in this week’s resources that, after learning about, I think we employed during this process include:

  • Differentiating observation from evaluation, being able to carefully observe what is happening free of evaluation, and to specify behaviors and conditions that are affecting us. We had noticed a level of stress in the classroom and the employee let us know that she was feeling particularly stressed. We took some time to take stock in the classroom and see what was happening with the children and with the staff. We attempted to work on motivating the students positively, focus on the positivity of the children, give feedback to the employee based on our PBIS program, request that the kids stick to a schedule so they get appropriate outside time to let off steam, etc. As we worked through this process, we learned that any positive changes didn’t stick and the employee quickly reverted to meeting the children at their level in a negative way and participating in arguments with them, raising the stress level of the classroom and children and creating volatile relationships. Approaching this objectively and without evaluation allowed us to understand what was actually going on in the classroom and seeing what contributing factors we had going on. If the employee was willing to hear us out or understand that we, as adults, play a role in the children’s day based on our decisions, we would have had a very successful turn in events.
  • Differentiating feeling from thinking, being able to identify and express internal feeling states in a way that does not imply judgment, criticism, or blame/punishment: I think that this is hard to do for many people, and when met with someone who wants to see you “feeling” for them and reacting to their wants and needs, it makes any type of constructive criticism or learning difficult. In our last evaluation and meeting with the staff member, this was approached in a very non-judgemental way. I wanted to stay as much out of the realm of criticism as I could. We still provided this staff member a small raise in order to demonstrate that we appreciate her hard work, but let her know that it could include a more significant amount if we were able to see her achieve the goals we were working on. We worked very hard on providing the feedback in a way that did not imply she was under-performing but rather approached it as collaboration to solve issues that we both identified as problems.
  • Requesting what we would like in a way that clearly and specifically states what we do want (rather than what we don’t want), and that is truly a request and not a demand (i.e. attempting to motivate, however subtly, out of fear, guilt, shame, obligation, etc. rather than out of willingness and compassionate giving): I am big on this. For example, with this employee and our issues with scheduling, I had asked that she provide her optimal schedule so I can work on doing something that works for us all. After this was done and she proposed a schedule, I was able to work towards most of those requests but there were a few I just couldn’t logistically do at this time but let her know we can work towards in the future. My goal was to hear what she wants so that it wasn’t just me being reactive to her requests and then being frustrated because we didn’t have the same vision.

Even though it didn’t end positively with this employee, after reviewing many of these conflict resolution techniques, I am pleased that many of these concepts are things that I or my company already put into practice when managing a conflict with an employee.


3 thoughts on “Conflict Strategies

  1. You have a great post here! I’m so glad that you will be posting we’ve missed you! I definitely understand how hard it is to deal with a co worker like that. I understand how this could frustrate the staff and children. It may not have ended well for them, but taking off that many days leaving you guys trying to fill in gaps. It was handled correctly good post!


  2. This was an awesome post! I love how you dealt with this employee. Even though the employee felt some type of way, I believe that you handled the situation wonderfully and professionally. You utilized great conflict resolution techniques appropriate to your situation.


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