Coaching Employees to Handle Conflict

Coaching Employees to Handle Conflict

This article by Dave Gutscher is so valuable that I wanted you to see it, even if you already saw it posted on my FaceBook page.

Yes, Dave is my son. And he really is a brilliant business leader. Honestly. I’m completely objective about that.

Check it out.


One of the questions managers ask in an interview with a potential employee involves conflict in the workplace. How would you handle a problem with a co-worker? What would you do if you asked a co-worker to help you with something and the co-worker refused? There are myriad ways to ask the question, but almost assuredly, some variation will be asked in an interview.

In my experience, nearly 100% of the time, the interviewee will answer that she would speak directly with the other employee first to see if the problem can be sorted out between them. Only if it couldn’t be sorted out between them would she then go to the manager.

So when an employee comes to see me because a co-worker has hurt her feelings, I ask her if she has spoken with the co-worker to let her know that her behaviour or comment has caused a problem. The answer is invariably ‘no’.

So what is happening here? Everyone seems to know what they are supposed to do to deal with a co-worker problem (i.e. speak directly to the co-worker about it), but very few people actually do it. Why?

I think it’s because of fear. Most people fear that giving feedback to an employee is going to lead to confrontation. And since most people, including me, actually do not enjoy a confrontation with another person, it’s easier just to take the problem to the manager.

It would be easy for a manager to dismiss the employee as a ‘Whinypants’. But this would not be in the spirit of slow management, which focuses on helping employees flourish.

The wrong thing to say, of course, is, “Take those pouty lips and go deal with your petty problem yourself.” It also would not contribute to the employee’s growth if the manager decided to take the problem on herself.

So what is the right thing to do?

While there may be many ways to do it, the goal is to help the employee solve the problem herself.

A manager could say something like the following:

It sounds like you have a bit of a challenge there and it looks like you have two choices. You can either give your co-worker some feedback or you can do nothing and just live with it. Doing nothing, of course, will mean that your co-worker might not know that she has hurt your feelings, so she may inadvertently do it again. Doing nothing means you’ll need to be ready for that. If you would like to give the person feedback, what would you feel comfortable saying?

And then they could work on what the employee would say and practice it together a bit. And then it’s important to follow up later with the employee to see how the feedback was received. Occasionally, the employee chickens out and avoids giving the feedback. And sometimes the feedback is not accepted in the spirit it is given. But most of the time, the co-worker is thankful for having received the feedback, and the relationship is strengthened.


Dave Gutscher blogs about slow living, slow management, slow entrepreneurship, minimalism, and just about anything that has to do with taking it easy at work and at play. Find a quiet place, grab a cup of tea, and check out his blog at

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