Nothing is as stressful as a conflict with your boss. What can you do about it? Three HR advisers and an employment lawyer provide advice. A conflict with your boss can occur in many different ways. You may feel unappreciated, not heard, or poorly rewarded. Or maybe you have to perform tasks that you would rather not perform. But it may also be that your supervisor feels that he has no control over you or is dissatisfied with your work attitude.
Whatever the conflict is, how do you make sure that the relationship between you and your manager gets better? Three HR advisers and an employment lawyer provide advice on this.
1. Make a decision
Would you like you to resolve the conflict together? “The easiest way is the way out, looking for another job,” says senior HR Advisor Cynthia van Tilborg of ADP Netherlands. ‘However, it may be that you like your current job so much that you don’t want to leave. Then there is only one thing to do: start the conversation. You will then have to see if you can discuss the issues subject of the conflict. Perhaps you can come to a compromise. If this is really not possible, then it is a matter of accepting that you disagree. For both cases, my advice would be to express this to each other. If you want to continue to work together, you will also have to learn to accept that you disagree. It would be better to know what the differences are. “
2. Think of what you want to achieve
If you want to improve the relationship, you’ll have to talk. How can you prepare for that talk? “It is advisable to put everything on paper in advance so that you have a good picture and can also write emotions off before you start the conversation,” says HR adviser Gonnie de Leeuw of Claeren Risk Managers.
“Prepare carefully by coming up with concrete situations that support your position,” says labor lawyer Floris Asscher of Pellicaan Advocaten. “And when it comes to a legal conflict, make sure you seek information from a lawyer or other counselor in advance.”
“Discuss the conflict with someone you trust in advance, such as a partner, family member or girlfriend,” says HR advisor Tamara Baars of ArtEZ. “Try to get make yourself clear beforehand about what the conflict is all about for you. But mainly look for an answer to the question: when is it solved for you? You can then start the conversation based on that specific goal. “
It can take away a lot of tension when you listen to the other party and show that you understand his or her point of view. Van Tilborg says “Think in advance of a number of open questions that you can ask your supervisor. Put it on paper. The purpose of this is to check whether your supervisor indeed has the opinion that you attribute to him or her. You can then continue asking questions. So first, try to get a clear, unbiased picture of the position of your manager. You can then indicate how you feel about it. Try to gain understanding for your position by coming up with concrete examples. “
De Leeuw says “This makes it more tangible for the other person. Make sure what you say is facts. Do not make assumptions or come up with things that you have heard from someone else. Try further to stay in control of your emotions, although you can explain how you experienced something.”
In addition, it is important that the conversation is conducted at a calm moment, says Van Tilborg. “For example, discuss an ongoing conflict during a meeting that was already scheduled, not just in between. In the latter case, your supervisor can dismiss the problem more easily.”
4. Approach a confidential adviser
What can you do if you and your supervisor no longer seem to be able to solve it? “There are various options,” says Baars. “They also depend on what is arranged within an organization. Usually the most obvious next step is to ask your supervisor’s supervisor if he or she can contribute to a solution. If you find that inappropriate or you want to exchange ideas with someone first, a confidant within your organization can help you sharpen your thoughts on this.”
De Leeuw says “If, after various discussions, it appears that you and your supervisor does not seem to be able to solve it, it is wise to go to HR or a confidential adviser. They often have more experience with such situations and can give you good advice or join you as an independent person at the next meeting.”
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5. Be discreet
Keep the problem to yourself as much as possible. Baars says “It is better not to involve colleagues in the problem, because they could end up in a loyalty conflict.”
Asscher says “It is unwise to ignite or gossip about the conflict with colleagues. That ultimately does not provide a solution. It is good to discuss a conflict with your supervisor, a confidential adviser, or possibly with a colleague who is not a party and offers to mediate.”
6. Do not immediately take legal action
Asscher advises against taking legal action immediately: “Sometimes the judge has to get involved to ensure that an employee can actually enforce his rights, but often it is then difficult to get the sphere of conflict out of the air.”
Baars, too, advises to follow the formal path only in extreme cases: “In some organizations, it is possible to formally file a complaint, which is then handled by a specially appointed committee. However, I would advise not to follow that path, if possible. In some cases it is a great way to expose abuses, but it still remains a tricky tool that I don’t think you should use too quickly.”
7. Ask for help from a mediator
Asscher says “Mediation by an independent mediator can be a good first step for both parties to resolve the conflict.” Baars says “This form of mediation can be used for both large and smaller conflicts. So there really doesn’t have to be a screaming fight. However both you and your supervisor must be open to this and be prepared to undertake such a process together. That doesn’t have to be a long process.”
Van Tilborg says “In some cases, you really can’t work it out together. A mediator can help in such case. Try to be realistic. Even with mediation by a mediator you will eventually have to accept certain things. If you are unable to do so, it makes little sense to hire a mediator. Then you better look for another job that does offer working conditions in which you can find yourself.”
8. Be honest
Communicate openly with your supervisor during a conflict. Baars says “Try to resolve a conflict as quickly as possible to prevent it escalating further than necessary. Stay transparent about the steps you take. For example, if you want to involve the next higher manager, discuss this with your manager beforehand. The best thing would be that you inform the next higher supervisor about the situation together.”
9. Prevent escalation
Don’t get emotional. Asscher says “Just as an employer is required by law to act as a’ good employer ‘, the same applies to employees. This means, for example, that you have to be reasonable in a conflict and that in certain situations you can be expected to look for the solution or cooperate in mediation. An irreconcilable disagreement with your employer can be a reason for a judge to terminate the employment contract. Therefore, try to prevent a business conflict from becoming personal, as this stands in the way of normal cooperation.”
How do you handle conflicts in general? Do you often have the same kind of problems, while colleagues don’t seem susceptible to that? Can you learn anything from that?
Van Tilborg says “As a professional you should be able to work with everyone. This does not mean that you always have to agree with everyone or that you should like everyone, but that not everyone is the same, everyone has their peculiarities and it is up to you to find your way in this. After all, the grass is often not greener on the other side. So for the sake of cooperation with your supervisor, try also to look at the things that he or she does well and how you can learn from them. As for your disagreements, you have the choice either to try to solve them and go on, or to put an end to your work relationship with the other party.”