Practical Application: Conflict Resolution for Supervisors

Instructor: Ashutosh Juneja

Ashutosh has over 18 yrs of exp. in managing business & IT teams. He holds a Bachelors degree in Electronics Engineering and a Masters degree in Information Systems.

Oftentimes, a supervisor is needed to resolve workplace conflicts. We'll examine a few scenarios featuring workplace conflicts and see how supervisors use their leadership and communication skills to resolve them.

Conflict Resolution for Supervisors

Workplace conflict can arise between co-workers, between employees and supervisors, or between employees and customers. They create a tense working environment that can greatly affect the level of efficiency and productivity.

To maintain a positive working environment, supervisors should take adequate steps to resolve conflicts in a timely and orderly manner. There are three main types of workplace conflict:

  • Leadership conflict
  • Cultural conflict
  • Workstyle conflict

Let's look at an example of each. After you read each scenario, follow the instructions for the section titled What Would You Do? Be sure to do that before you read the sample resolution.

Leadership Conflict

Henry has worked as a sales manager at a pharmaceutical company for over a year. He directly manages a team of sales representatives, which includes Susan, a high-performing rep who's very hard working. Henry is notified that Susan has filed a complaint against his leadership style. In the complaint she states that he micromanages everyone's activity/technique and gets angry if he thinks they're making a mistake. Other reps have also added their names to these complaints, threatening walking out if something isn't done to resolve the issue.

This is a case of leadership conflict between a subordinate and her manager.

What Would You Do?

How should Henry respond? Imagine you are Henry. Before you read the resolution, write down how you would respond as the manager in that situation. Use these questions as guidelines for your response.

  • Should you (as Henry) approach Susan directly? If so, what should you say to her?
  • How should you respond to other employees who have signed their names to Susan's complaints? Or is it crossing a line to try to resolve the issue yourself?
  • What should your reaction be to the human resources (HR) team?


Let's look at a possible step by step process for Henry to resolve this issue with Susan.

1. The first step is for Henry and Susan to attempt to settle the conflict themselves. Henry should approach Susan, without a defensive attitude.

2. He should discuss probable reasons for the differences between them. Being a manager, Henry needs to actively listen to Susan's concerns and take her feedback and complaints constructively.

3. Henry should ask Susan to clearly explain her issues with his micro-management style and his anger at the office.

4. Next, Henry needs to communicate his views clearly. He should be open-minded to making adjustments, just like he asks his employees to adjust if their performance is not up to par. Being a manager, he should be able to use his leadership qualities to change his management style.

5. If this discussion is productive, then both Henry and Susan should meet with HR to outline their conversation and make a plan for how to handle these situations in the future. Henry should have a clear plan for adjusting his management style.

6. If Henry is unable to communicate effectively with Susan, then he needs to seek a mediator or supervisor who understands the concerns of both parties and will look for options for resolving the issue.

In addition, Henry should use any of these steps as appropriately to address any other employees who made similar complaints about his leadership style.

Cultural Conflict

Kristy and Laura work in the marketing division. Kristy has a political inclination toward the Republican Party. Laura leans more toward Democrats. Both try to avoid discussing politics because they know that might create tension. One day, Kristy comes to the office wearing a shirt that shows her support for a Republican candidate. Laura gets upset, and they have a heated discussion and stop talking to each other. Helen is the manager of the marketing division and is made aware of the situation between her two employees.

This conflict is due to cultural and political differences in the workplace.

What Would You Do?

Ok, now you are Helen. What do you do when two of your employees are no longer talking due to political differences? Before you read the resolution, write down how you would handle this disagreement. Respond to the following questions in your writing.

  • Should you let the two women resolve the issue on their own?
  • Should you tell Kristy to stop showing her political inclination at work? Or is that a freedom of speech issue?
  • Should you tell Laura to respect Kristy's beliefs? That she shouldn't get upset over a shirt?
  • Is the dress code an issue in this situation?
  • What should you do if nothing you try works?


The best way to resolve conflicts related to cultural differences is to refer to rules and boundaries outlined in the company's policy manual. Here is what Helen should do to handle the situation with Kristy and Laura.

1. As the manager, she cannot ignore the situation. She needs to directly address both employees.

2. Helen should call a meeting with both parties and possibly an HR representative if applicable.

3. Helen needs to listen patiently to both their arguments. Allow both women to speak, but with a respectful manner. If the conversation becomes mean or bitter, Helen needs to step in and stop those comments.

4. Helen then should review the company's rules and policies for dress code and personal beliefs. Consequences should be made clear for both Kristy and Laura. If any of those rules or boundaries have already been broken (for example, if Kristy violated a company policy by wearing clothing with a political message), Helen needs to hold the employee accountable.

5. Last, Helen should have both Kristy and Laura commit to following the company's policies and respecting each other's beliefs going forward. Make the boundaries very clear for the future.

If this mediation does not resolve the issue, then Helen should approach her HR department or another supervisor to decide the next steps.

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