Conflict: Personal Lessons in Management,Part V


Conflict: Personal Lessons in Management,Part V

  • By Ian Bradley
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Managing a department is a bit like being a therapist. You get to see a little bit of the inner world of the people you manage, but unlike therapy, you don’t get to bill for it.

I remember the first time that a senior psychologist entered my office and started to cry. It was a shock to see this person without her professional face that bore not the slightest hint of the underlying turmoil. Often the things that drove people to my office were things that I considered trivial. Complaints about the color of the walls, air quality, noise, washroom hygiene only scratched the surface of the host of issues regarding physical aspects of the building – none of which I was responsible for nor could greatly influence. After listening patiently, I would often followup with a memo fired off into administrative space where I knew my request would join the hundreds of other requests that were commonplace in a physical structure that dated from the 1800’s.

However, two other staff issues were more serious. The first involved the perceived injustice regarding the distribution of resources and the second, interpersonal conflict. Both issues, if managed poorly, can poison the atmosphere of a department.

“Why can’t I have more secretarial time, or research space or student help?” would qualify as examples of the first category. Almost invariably, these requests were delivered with an unspoken comparative pole: “like she or he has.” I quickly learned that dispensing tangible resources has to be done with clear criteria since the dispensing should not be equal. Not everyone gets the same amount of protected research time, research assistant money or access to space. There are priorities for the department and some people can better fulfill those priorities than others. However, what have to be objective are the criteria; otherwise a resource manager is open to criticisms of favoritism.

In contrast, intangible resources such as appreciation of the expertise and teaching potential of all the staff should be equally distributed. In our department, everyone taught, super-stars and regular psychologists all had the opportunity to share their knowledge in many of the training programs that we developed. Similarly, everyone had an equal voice in strategic planning –deciding where we wanted to go as a department, what programs we wanted to develop, what needs we saw – the participation is all these things was democratic.


More about interpersonal conflict in the next post…


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