Every once in awhile there comes a time when the manager and an employee just aren't getting along. Suddenly the employee seems to be insubordinate, or the manager seems to be going out of his or her way to be abusive in some manner to the employee. Humans have a habit of doing that to each other every once in a while.

Engineering Department employees in office, 1946

Seattle Municipal Archives via Compfight

This is usually caused by the relationship getting blurred between managers and employees. In essence, they either were friends who started being antagonistic towards each other, had a shaky relationship and then something happened, or one or the other did something that either the manager got on them for or the manager did something the employee didn't appreciate. Maybe they were co-workers and one of them got promoted. Maybe there was a previous history between them, and now suddenly they're in the same department, with one reporting to the other. There's a lot of reasons why these things happen.

Is there a chance to repair these situations? Always! As a matter of fact, it's imperative. No matter the baggage that's been created, it's important for managers, even more than employees, to attempt to get things at least back to a business relationship. In the long run, it's the manager who will have to answer the questions as to why things didn't go well, and the manager who will have to make the ultimate decision at some point; the employee or the manager... or possibly human resources or whoever the manager reports to.

The book Crucial Conversations talks about finding ways to turn conversations into action and results by answering four question:

* who cares
* who knows
* who must agree
* how many people is it worth involving

Basically, what these means is that a disagreement between two people always involves other people, indirectly or not. Either the employee or manager will possibly take their issues out on others in the department. Others can feel tension, even when it doesn't involve them, and whether they own up to it or not, people tend to take sides, and that never makes a department more cohesive.

Managers need to always keep lines of communication open to begin with, but in instances like this, it's up to the manager to make the first step. Bringing an employee into a room where it's only the two of them, then allowing the employee to speak frankly during this session is the first step.

Give the employee the first opportunity to speak; they probably won't do it, but if they do, listen without interruption, and take it like an adult if you don't like what they have to say. When it's your turn, no matter what you have to say, make sure it comes out in an even manner, without bad emotions or intentions, because that will only make things worse.

After each of you has had your say, it's time to figure out how to proceed. Unless it's evident there's no way to settle the issue, your next phrase should be something along the lines of "what can we do to get this behind us and establish a good working relationship?" This gives you the opportunity to see if the employee is willing to be a team player, or whether things are so bad that you're going to have to go in a different direction.

If the employee can't think of what to do, you should have a solution ready yourself. Even if the employee has an idea, you should keep your idea in mind as a possible suggestion if what the employee has to say is something you can't live with. However, at this point at least you've begun a dialogue, and now you have a chance of correcting the damage.

Here's the important thing; remember that you're the manager, or director, or whatever title you have as the person in charge, and you can't allow either suggestion to take away the authority you've been given to get the overall job done. If you were friends before, learn the lesson and don't do that again. If there was previous baggage, get beyond it and start working towards your common goals. Be flexible, but don't be a doormat; if that happens, you won't earn any respect from anyone, and your days as a person in leadership won't last long.