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Boss-Subordinate Conflict

The relationship between manager and subordinate is often a strained one. Indeed, the most frequent reason that employees leave their positions voluntarily is because of chronic, unresolved conflict with the boss. So, any effective employee retention program must address the issue of costly* boss-subordinate conflict.

The Track 2 option is recommended for managers. Indeed, enlighted managers may enroll with one or more of their direct reports — a powerful team-building strategy. The Track 3 option is recommended for human resource professionals and other support staff.

Follow links in the "Conference Info" panel to the left for program details. Print this one-page flyer

* Click for complimentary access to the Dana Measure of Financial Cost of Organizational Conflict, an on-line calculator producing immediate results. Also compute the financial return-on-investment in conflict management training.

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Edited by Melissa Zarda. See other bibliographies.
Contributors: Debra Puorro, Jennifer Lostowski, Margaret Kozlowska-Misiorek, Scott Martin

Copyright restriction: The contents of this bibliography may not be placed on other websites, but links from other websites may be directed to this page. Hardcopies of this page may be printed for academic purposes.

  • Blackard, Kirk & Gibson, James W. (2002). Capitalizing on Conflict: Strategies and Practices for Turning Conflict into Synergy in Organizations. Mountain View, CA: Davies-Black Publishing.

    Much workplace conflict stems unwittingly from management policies and attitudes. The authors address specific leadership actions necessary to correct these problems and enliven the discussion with clear examples. The book is a guide on how to turn conflicting situations around to achieve the positive business results. Mediation and trust building are the main techniques to accomplish that.

  • Goule, Richard (October 20, 1986). Manager’s Journal: Thrown Out of the Game After Hitting a Home Run: The Wall Street Journal.

This article describes reasons why a very talented individual, with a successful track record, may not succeed in an organization. Although a person may be very valuable to an organization, they may be fired due to a clash of interest, or styles, with a top-level manager. How might this situation be avoided? Included are some helpful tips on what to look for in a potential boss before accepting a seemingly, promising position.

  • Grove, Andrew (September 30, 1985) Manager's Journal: Is Anyone Minding the Monitors?: The Wall Street Journal.

In a fast-paced world with many changes and an extreme amount of competition, a human resource department is a vital addition to any organization. However, human resource manager need to realize their risk, and face their fear that they may have to confront managers who undermine their subordinates. Although they may not want to cause conflict between them and their boss, they are creating conflicts elsewhere by not confronting the managers.

  • Handling Relationship Problems with Your Manager or Boss. Retrieved from the web July 8th, 2005, Conflict 911 (2005).  

    This article explains how conflict between you and your manager or boss can be a waste of energy if there is no resolution. This article gives tips on how make the best out of an uncomfortable situation. The author details a five step process on problem solving that helps you to feel as good as you can about the situation between you and your boss and how you handle it.

  • Handy, Frank.  (2004).  Solving workplace conflict starts with self-awareness.  Canadian HR Reporter, 17, 21.

Managers can address conflict by being a role model.  A first step to reduce workplace conflict proposed by Frank Handy is self-awareness, which requires the manager to understand his interpersonal strengths and weaknesses and those effects on the work environment.  The manager’s role is to assess personality traits and needs of the department for effective job investment and placement of employees.   

  • Hymowitz, Carol (May 2, 1988) Five Main Reasons Why Managers Fail --- In Many Cases, Their Setbacks Are Self-Made: The Wall Street Journal.

Although some difficult external situations can cause a manager to fail, most of the time, managers contribute to their own failure. This article describes the five main reasons a manager may fail: 1. Inability to Get Along; 2. Failure to Adapt; 3. The “Me Only” Syndrome; 4. Fear of Action; and, 5. Unable to Rebound. Robert Lefton, president of Psychological Associates, Inc. believes, “For some, the problem is getting along with subordinates. Managers typically can't inspire and win the loyalty of underlings because they aren't good listeners, don't give and take criticism well and view conflict as something bad instead of something inevitable that has to be handled.

  • Kirsch, Jonathan (December 14, 1997). Perspective on the Sprewell Incident; The Screamer and the Fire Within; Bosses like Carlesimo who rage at their subordinates should know that verbal violence is still violence: Los Angeles Times.

Although sexual advances and racial epithets are now illegal in the workplace, verbal violence is not. Some managers labeled “screamers” are still accepted in some organizations, because their actions are justified. The situation that occurred between Latrell Sprewell and his coach, P.J. Carlesimo, just goes to show that a subordinate may react violently when coerced by their manager for a long period of time.

  • Kumar Naj, Amal (August 29, 1994), Corporate Therapy: The Latest Addition To Executive Suite Is Psychologist's Couch - Personality Clashes Prompt Companies to Seek Help Of Shrinks Like Dr. Smart - Meeting of Managers' Minds: The Wall Street Journal.

Organizations are beginning to realize that personality clashes or leadership flaws at the executive level can be very costly to an organization. Many companies are beginning to hire industrial psychologists to help resolve issues that had previously been tolerated or overlooked in the past. Many large, well-known corporations have had many failures in the past due to conflicts arising from the executive levels.

  • Moses, B. (2002). Bad Bosses and How To Handle Them. Retrieved from the web August 28th, 2005, Conflict 911.

The author of this article describes her views of how a bad boss acts and what characteristics they have. The article details weak, political, black-and-white, micro, invisible, nasty and task managers. The author suggest how some workers feel when they are managed a certain way and how to strategize in ways to work with them. 

  • Popejoy, Barbara & McManigle, and Brenda J. (2002). Managing Conflict with Direct Reports. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.

This concise guide will help managers recognize what sparks conflict, and learn strategies to minimize it. There is no way to avoid people who work for the manager, so it’s important to learn their emotions and clarify performance expectations.  Providing feedback in a timely manner is also critical to successful management of people directly responsible for accomplishing goals for which one is also responsible.

  • Wall, B. (1999). Working relationships: The simple truth about getting along with friends and foes at work. Mountain View, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Building and maintaining good relationships with co-workers can be on of the most wearisome function to accomplish in today’s workplace. The conflicts that arise from this activity cause most people to quit or be fired because of inflicting conflicts with their managers and co-workers. The author explores opportunities that will help us interact positively, develop trust and help us maintain those good relationships with our co-workers.