Seven Signs of Managers Creating Conflict

Keep staff happy by identifying and resolving poor supervisory skills

Seven Signs of Managers Creating ConflictIn a perfect world, bosses would be motivating, understanding and inspiring. Employees would be energetic, loyal and enthusiastic. The world isn’t perfect and sadly, even when employees aren’t, there is little tolerance for the imperfect boss.

Workplaces will always be filled with a certain amount of conflict because people who work together don’t always like each other or get along. While professionalism is expected, it is not necessarily guaranteed. This is especially true when someone pulls the “I’m the boss” card.

Statistics show the number one reason employees leave their jobs is bad bosses. While some people may put up with the stress and discontent of a bad manager, it’s generally only because of the need for income. The younger generation, the millennials, is even less tolerant. The statistics on employees leaving due to bad bosses are likely to worsen, especially when the post-millennials: Gen Z start their careers, since it will become less and less acceptable with each new generation that enters the workplace.

Companies seem slow to respond to this shift. Many still believe first-hand job knowledge and experience should be rewarded by promotion. There is a philosophy that supervision will come naturally because of job and company knowledge and model job performance. This is the biggest contributor to creating bad bosses.

It is easy to see the stages of transition of a promoted employee:

Stage One:  Newly promoted

  • It begins with enthusiasm and the promise to be a good leader
  • The new supervisor carries their pride in having been a good employee
  • They are dedicated to creating natural followers and to not repeat bad-boss missteps.

Stage Two:  Realize the difference

  • Whether it takes weeks or months, the focus shifts to balancing getting the job done and managing people
  • Different personalities, different supervisory needs and individual’s preferences reveal to the boss that template-style approaches won’t work.

Stage Three:  Impose some power

  • What may start with asking, being nice and extra understanding can turn to force when results aren’t as desired. It becomes my way or the highway, that’s the way I did things, etc.
  • Using managerial power or “power plays” are a common strategy to make people listen, do their job and work together.

Stage Four:  Change in personnel

  • Senior management doesn’t want to admit to a wrongful promotion so the new supervisor remains while employees are transferred or asked to leave (if the employees haven’t already moved on)
  • New bosses get the impression they are doing well and their staff members are the problem.

These stages can vary in duration and are not necessarily linear. Employees may be transferred and the bad boss reverts back to stage one or they may flip between being overly nice and power plays in order to get their point across. Even worse, they may resort to passive-aggressive behaviour by playing nice to employees’ faces but sabotaging tasks or goals while blaming others. It’s all part of their continued need to look good in the eyes of those who promoted them.

When things don’t go as the new supervisor planned, frustrations and stress run rampant. This is when little irritancies turn into arguments, differences of opinion turn into heated disagreements and moments of high emotion fly into full blown conflicts.

How can companies know when conflict is present between supervisors and employees?  Here are seven signs that might just be the tip of the iceberg:

  1. Orders vs discussion
    If bosses just bark out order after order and there is minimal two-way conversation, conflict often underlies the relationship.
  1. Schedule vs flexibility
    If supervisors are rigid, impose their preferred schedule and won’t entertain any accommodations, then insecurity, control and poor-supervisory skills are in play.
  1. Peers vs experts
    If employees sense unresolved issues with their supervisor with no hint of change on the horizon, they will not hesitate to create smart mobs with their peers rather than deal with the boss.
  1. Avoidance vs cooperation
    If bosses and employees spend work hours avoiding each other instead of working together, conflict might be the reason.
  1. Daily vs annual
    If bosses neglect to provide regular, daily feedback and only use the formal, annual assessment, conflict might be the issue.
  1. Technology vs face-to-face
    When there is a heavy use of technology, an avoidance of in-person interaction and supervisors aren’t getting what they want, conflict is hindering effective communication.
  1. Reign vs independence
    If bosses use their position to control their employees by reigning them in with policies and procedures, control and conflict may be causing them to stifle independence and creativity.

These seven signs seem obvious but they can be subtle and often exist for long periods because bosses justify or explain their actions with good reasoning and rationale. Decision-making and conduct can always be defended when it is perceived to be for the betterment of the team or company.

Diligence and speaking up are keys to addressing conflict and diminishing the prevalence of these symptoms of conflict with supervisors. Unfortunately, even when employees would like to speak up and need to, they usually don’t because they fear reprisal, being fired or worsened treatment in the future.

Therefore responsibility lies with bosses and their supervisors to recognize leadership problems and poor tactics. Some bosses may never be willing to look at their own skills to find the issues, so having tools can be helpful.

The easiest way to build better bosses and kill power plays being fed by conflict is to use assessments. Key questions will flush out issues and problems:

  • Check traits and egos: when employees and bosses both complete a simple assessment, the compared answers measure the boss’s skills and abilities. (we have one you can use – contact us)
  • Check problem areas: when there is a supervisor causing conflict and issues with their employees, other supervisors can weigh in on unresolved issues they’ve heard about and employees can do the same (anonymously of course) to determine sources of concern
  • Check favouritism: when employees make requests or suggestions, the boss should make a decision, but prior to implementation, the boss should discuss the change in a team meeting to hear how the team would respond.
  • Check options: when bosses respond to requests, they should ”try on” each of three possible response scenarios (yes, no, maybe) and flush out the impact of each so a good and unbiased decision can be made.

If conflict and a lack of communication and interaction skills are getting in the way of being a good boss, now is a great time to begin training and resolving the past issues and present biases. Stop bad bosses from doing more damage and causing more conflict, stress and resignations.

If you have read this article and thought, “wow, that sounds like my workplace”, change is needed. Tackle the issues of poor management strategies with our Building Better Bosses Program or  contact us at 604-349-8660 or 

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This entry was posted by Pam Paquet and is filed under Bad or Challenging Managers, Leadership. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.