How do you settle a clash between staff members?

There's a really simple answer to this question, and it's the wrong one.

Most people will say that you simply instruct them to stop fighting. You, as the supervisor, act as referee, pull them apart, and that solves the problem.

The problem is that it doesn't work, and you may never know what caused the problem. You may also be being very naïve if you think your order ends the fighting between them.

You might never again be able to trust those employees when they're working together. Problems will seem to have a way of happening whenever they're in the same building. It can, literally, go on for years.

Supervisors are in the middle of office wars. You're supposed to make sure they don't happen, and if they do, you're supposed to shut them down, permanently.

Your problems aren't made any easier by the fact that while some office fights are very trivial, others aren't, and relate to the work.

Office fights can be based on very serious issues:

  • In some cases, staff are doing something illegal, and that's going on right under your nose. Nobody says anything, but that's what the fighting is actually about.
  • Somebody's covering something up, and the other person is afraid to tell you what's wrong.
  • A staff member is reacting to a serious form of bullying, which is also illegal, and can lead to legal action. Some very nasty things can happen in offices, and not everybody wants to bring the problems out into the open.
  • You could have a scam operating out of your office, and someone's too scared to complain, but has been fighting with the other person about it.

Those are just a few of the pleasant possibilities behind an office fight.

They're hardly likely to stop because you tell them to stop.

If you're asked at an interview how you deal with clashes between staff, you need to show the interviewers you've made sure you know what you're dealing with.

Do NOT be so naïve as to assume you know everything that's going on, when something like this blows up out of nowhere. No manager is so guileless as to simply believe there's nothing to worry about, when an office war explodes.

To actually deal with the problem, you need to check out both parties. If you put them on the spot separately, where they have to answer questions, you'll get some information.

The most likely result, in any serious situation, is that you will find they may not even agree about what the problem is. One says the Moon is blue, the other says it's green.

Meaning they're both lying. That's when you know you've got a problem. That's when you tell management, and start trying to solve it.

At the interview

Given this question, How do you settle a clash between staff members? at an interview, you have to deal with a theoretical problem, but also show you understand the practical side, and your responsibilities as a supervisor.

Your answer must show a clear understanding of your role.

You must prove you understand your supervision role includes looking after the employer's interests.

You say:

As a broad policy, they'll be told to stop fighting, and that they'll be in real trouble if it continues. I won't hesitate to take disciplinary action against all parties in something like this.

I don't tolerate clashes between staff, ever, but I like to know what's going on, and why these clashes occur. I tend to get suspicious, if two people who were getting on well yesterday are fighting today. There has to be a reason.

Some of these clashes are very trivial. But sometimes there can be real problems, and I make a point of getting to the bottom of the issues between the staff.

There can be also be problems with the work, which can create these clashes, and I feel it's my job to make sure there aren't any hidden reasons, and nothing's being covered up, just to be on the safe side.

I'll interview the staff, hear each side of the story, and investigate further if it's necessary. If there are any problems with the work, I'll inform management immediately, and we move on from there.

Not a simple answer, but it does cover a real problem in the workplace, where management isn't aware of things being covered up.

You need eyes in the back of your head as a supervisor, if you can't trust your staff, and you need to have effective control of your staff to do your own job properly.

Never be naïve about any unusual situations in your section. Nothing is ever simple, and if there are any problems, they're yours.

This question is very important. You have to show leadership, responsibility, and the ability to handle people.

Handling people is a science, and it's your job.