How managers should resolve conflicts with associates

Feb 23, 2015

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Chester OnPoint, the blog of Eric Chester.

When rules are broken in situations that don’t call for immediate termination, gain your composure and think, "Open The Front Door Now (OTFDN)." This is the acronym for a simple formula that helps you address and correct many of the annoying small issues and problematic behaviors of your employees.

Here’s how the formula works:

O — Observe
First, make an observational statement that is rooted in fact, not conjecture. "Hey, Trevor, it’s 10:00 a.m. and you’re not at work." Notice, this statement isn’t accusatory; you’re simply making an observation. See if the associate provides a response as there could be a valid reason for the infraction.

T — Thoughts
If your employee doesn’t respond to your statement of observation, ask them for their thoughts on the matter. "Your weekly report isn’t on my desk as promised, Courtney. Can I get your thoughts on that?" This gives them a chance to show their cards and feel like they’re being heard. Again, do this without any anger that could ignite or escalate an easily resolvable situation.

F — Feedback
This is when you state the policy or practice that’s been violated and the reasoning, or the "why", behind it. "Marcus, we need all shopping carts brought in each night after we close. Those left in the parking are frequently stolen or vandalized." Lasting behavioral changes come about much more quickly when the offender is also made to understand how their failure to comply with the policy affects them.

D — Desire
State your desired expectation be firm, concise and crystal clear. "From this point on, Jerome and Katie, cell phones will not be allowed on the sales floor at any time. Our associates need to be fully present with each and every customer." Avoid making this kind of statement from a point of weakness. "It would be really great if you could find another time …" or a comment that’s open to interpretation.

N — Next time
Without sounding like you’re issuing a threat, put in place a consequence for an undesired behavior if it’s repeated. "Because reliability is something we value and promote in our brand advertising, we can only schedule those people who can be counted on to be here on time no matter what the traffic or weather conditions are. If this happens again, we will have to find someone for this shift we can rely on." Avoid phrases like, "If I catch you doing this again …" because that turns the problem into a you vs. them scenario.

Position yourself as their coach who wants them to win, but one who has to enforce the consequences of non-compliance.

What unique challenges to conflict resolution do you see in retail environments? What tips would you add to those in the article for store managers around resolving employee conflicts?

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9 Comments on "How managers should resolve conflicts with associates"

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Diana McHenry
4 years 6 months ago

I think it is helpful to build relationships and build on people’s strengths and also solicit operational suggestions from associates in stores. There can be a tendency to be very rules-based and hierarchical. It’s important to run good operations, and to have room for education and empowering associates so folks grow, want to do the right thing and are retained. I’m working with a retailer now who is doing these things, and they are attracting and retaining much better talent and seeing people grow.

Roger Saunders
4 years 6 months ago
Great coaches bring a learning experience for each of their players (associates). No matter what their age, you want them to have the same positive experiences at picking up something new, just as we all did when we were in our first job experience—whether we were eight or nine and working as a paper carrier, 16 as someone working in retail or 21 coming out of college. Individuals who join retail have to know that they are in a team experience. Let them know that others—fellow associates, customers, supervisors and they themselves—are relying upon their performance in holding up their end. Provide them with genuine, positive feedback for the first two weeks to two months on the new job. Offer them examples of positive outcomes, as well as negative ones when team players don’t follow through. The five-step formula is a positive one, and importantly, Eric is emphasizing sound feedback and communication. The most effective way of beating back the issue of having multiple conflicts within the store is to have the right training and… Read more »
Shep Hyken
4 years 6 months ago

One of the most important responsibilities of management or leadership in an organization is to defend the culture. If your company is customer-focused and you see an employee exhibiting behavior that isn’t so, it’s time to step in. Provided this is not an offense that warrants termination, look at it as a teaching opportunity. I’ve seen good managers demonstrate and teach employees who are out of alignment do such a great job that these employees become role models and eventually move up in the company.

So, the question to consider in situations that include conflict or misunderstanding is: Is this a teachable offense? If so, take the positive spin of a lesson versus an embarrassing or uncomfortable reprimand.

Ed Rosenbaum
4 years 6 months ago

Getting to the root of the problem is critical to getting resolution. Possibly the other person did not put the same priority on the situation that you/I did. Maybe the rules of the game were not clear. Are other influences within the company creating a scheduling problem?

David Zahn
4 years 6 months ago

The tips are terrific “MANAGEMENT” techniques and are worth discussion. However, I am a little stuck on whether or not we are talking about “CONFLICT MANAGEMENT” here. I have a couple of thoughts that this prompted, though:

Not all conflict is bad. At times we tend to avoid conflict or have come to believe that it is a negative. Not always.

At times we assume that the person we are engaging with or interacting with is in conflict with us if we do not see the behaviors we expect. We judge ourselves by our intentions, and others by their actions. The examples provided seemed to allow for an interpretation that MAY or MAY NOT demonstrate conflict. So while it may change the mnemonic provided, maybe we should consider adding a step of “Define” or “Determine” to identify if in fact this is a true conflict situation.

In any case, I think more of these kinds of discussions here (and “in the field”) are helpful and should be encouraged. Great food for thought and discussion fodder.

Ralph Jacobson
4 years 6 months ago

Depending upon the type of retailer and the shopper traffic in the specific store the work environment can get intense, to say the least. As a supermarket manager a hundred years ago, many of the shopper interactions would be catalysts for conflict. Bottom line, put yourself in their place to get closer to their thinking (the employee, that is). The suggestions in the article are good, however I would be sure to include the perspective from which these statement are made. Be them just for a moment, and you’ll better connect with them along the way.

Kai Clarke
4 years 6 months ago

Most retail environments are rife with the issues of tardiness, poor attitudes and irresponsible behaviors. Change management starts with the top of the company and ensures that everyone is on board with a healthy training, customer service and reinforcement of personal obligations and responsibilities. Clear, numbers-based goals inherent in a corporate culture and part of a full 360 degree feedback system solve many of these issues, when communicated on a regular (weekly or monthly) basis.

Mel Kleiman
4 years 6 months ago

The number one reason retailers put up with mediocrity with their employees is that they have no pipeline of potential great employees. The second reason is that managers have not been trained to do the things that Eric talks about. Three, most of us treat employees as children instead of adults and then expect them to act as adults.

Verlin Youd
4 years 6 months ago

There are many approaches to dealing with employee conflicts and many of them can be applied based on a specific company situation or culture. Regardless of the program, there seem to be three common ingredients critical to success:

  • a manager/supervisor that really does care
  • an employee that really does care
  • the ability to communicate, meaning not just expressing thoughts but really listening to each other

Nothing can substitute for on-going, consistent, open, honest, and immediate communication.


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