Keeping Working Relationships Positive: What Supervisors Can Do

Poor working relationships do not just happen. They develop over time.

Along the way leaders can find opportunities to intervene. Timely action can nudge a strained relationship back on track.

An example: Jenny, a nurse manager, noticed that one of her senior nurses was a bit heavy handed with her mentoring. She reacted to lapses in others’ performance with sarcasm. Generally, she identified real problems; her response was simply not all that constructive.

Jenny knew she had to do something. She wanted a solution that would encourage critical evaluation of performance but would deliver that evaluation with respect.

Key points for Jenny’s conversation with the senior nurse:

  1. Focus on behavior. Ascribing motives, attitudes, or feelings to others often offends. You can’t see those qualities, but you can observe behavior.
  2. Identify a positive. Jenny values the senior nurse’s critical eye. She wants a team in which members helps one another do their best.
  3. Point towards a solution. Jenny can build on the idea that the senior nurse isn’t being sarcastic just to be mean, but that she finds this approach comfortable. She may even think others appreciate her humor. Jenny’s goal is to convey some unintended consequences of this approach and to point towards alternatives.

First line supervisors are responsible for building a positive social environment within their teams. Often they can accomplish this goal by being generally supportive and empowering. But when they identify a relationship among team members going off the rails, they need to take action.

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