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Managing Difficulties in Supervision
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In the last section, we discussed the four characteristics
of effective goal setting: setting specific goals; setting realistically difficult
goals; mutual supervisee-supervisor goal agreement; and giving feedback.
would be great if your involvement with your supervisee was conflict-free and
they always did what they were supposed to do. But clearly this is the real world
and just as support staff needs the management of conflict resolution, so does
the therapeutic staff. Has that been your experience? Let's take a step back and
look at your history as a supervisor.
♦ 4-Step "Conflict Resolving Tactic" Technique
If you are a supervisor of an agency
providing leadership for large numbers of people, you might be familiar with the
following conflict resolving tactic:
Step 1: You give an oral warning;
Step 2: Then you give a written warning;
Step 3: Then you issue suspension without pay, and a final
warning, or probation;
Step 4: You terminate the therapist.
If you have
been a supervisor of an agency for many years, I feel it important to note that
you clearly "switch hats" from supervisor to mentor or coach. However,
in the case of supervisees, I feel that another approach is more beneficial, and
I hope you agree.
In this section, we will propose a new method of resolving
conflict: observation; thoughts; feedback; desires; and next time.
New 5-Step "Conflict Resolution Process" Technique
♦ Step # 1 -
The first step in our procedure of conflict resolution is known
as observation. At this point in the conflict, you would make a verbal observation
to your supervisee about his or her behavior. Nora was a supervisor to Lynette
who worked in a family care facility. Nora noticed that Lynette had been falling
behind in her client progress notes. She addressed Lynette with, "I notice
that you've been falling behind on your client progress notes
can see, this was said in a non-accusatory tone. There was no demand for an explanation,
just a mere acknowledgment of the behavior. Lynette felt somewhat embarrassed about attracting negative attention. Sometimes, this is enough for many supervisees
to remedy their manners. Or, they may offer you a justified response and an assurance
of correction, such as, "Yes, I'm afraid I haven't been as up-to-speed lately,
but I have already set aside the entire evening to devote to those notes."
However, they may not respond at all, and it may be necessary to move on to the
♦ Step # 2 - Thoughts
The second step in conflict
resolution is thoughts of the supervisee on their behavior. If the supervisee
didn't voluntarily comment on your primary observation of behavior, ask them directly
for input, but again in a non-accusatory tone. For instance, when Lynette didn't
respond to Nora's question about her negligent note-taking, Nora asked, "What
are your thoughts on writing these in a timely manner?"
This gave Lynette
the feeling that she was not being sideswiped and that she had a chance to defend
herself. Also, it provided Nora with an opportunity to understand a certain aspect
of the situation that she might have needed to know. This step is vital in avoiding
accusations of unfairness later.
♦ Step # 3 - Feedback
to observation and thoughts, the third step in conflict resolution is feedback.
In this step, you will explain to the supervisee the reasoning for the correction of this
behavior. Essentially, you will be reaffirming the importance of the rule or principle
they may have violated. Nora told Lynette, the supervisee who had been neglecting
her progress notes, "The purpose of these notes is not only for my benefit,
but for yours as well. Without those notes, how can you keep up on your progress?" By relating the advice directly back to Lynette, she was more willing to react
to Nora's suggestions.
Think of your supervisee who is having trouble in one area
or another. Would he or she benefit from your feedback? What would be the least
accusatory statement you could make when giving them feedback?
♦ Step # 4 -
The fourth step in conflict resolution is desire. This step involves
letting your expectations be known to the supervisee. This stage always takes
a little diplomacy, would you agree? Although you don't want to leave your statements
open to interpretation, you also don't want to alienate your supervisee. Also,
avoid making a statement from a point of weakness. Such statements as "It
would be really great if you" almost sound like they are doing you a favor.
Do you agree? Do you have any unresponsive supervisees who might improve from
a statement of desire?
♦ Step # 5 - Next Time
In addition to
observation, thoughts, feedback, and desire, the fifth and final step in conflict
resolution is next time. This step involves making clear the consequences of the
supervisee's actions should they happen again. This step also takes some delegation.
Without issuing a threat, make a specific and enforceable repercussion for their
behavior that doesn't turn you into the bad guy.
Nora said the following to Lynette,
"If you continue to neglect your client progress notes, I will be forced
to give you a negative annual review." Avoid general statements such as,
"If you continue to neglect your client progress notes, there will be consequences"
and unenforceable or unreasonable consequences such as, "We will fire you
from the agency." By giving them a specific consequence to keep in mind,
your supervisee can easily link his actions with an unfavorable reaction.
this six hour home study course cannot cover all areas of supervision. Thus, here
are some books you might consider: "Discipline
without Punishment" by Dick Grote; "Coaching, Mentoring, and Managing:
Breakthrough Strategies to Solve Performance Problems and Build Winning Teams"
by William Hendricks; "Conflict Management: the Courage to Confront"
by Richard J. Mayer; and "Getting Them to Give a Damn" by Eric Chester.
In this section, we put forth a new method of resolving conflict:
observation; thoughts; feedback; desires; and next time.
the next section, we will present the various types of supervisees that are resistant
to improvement: the yeahbut supervisee; the silent supervisee; the "I'll
try" supervisee; and the irrelevant supervisee. Also, we will present various
techniques for overcoming difficult conversations with these types of supervisees.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Grant, J., Schofield, M. J., & Crawford, S. (2012). Managing difficulties in supervision: Supervisors' perspectives. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 59(4), 528–541.
Liu, C., Yang, L.-Q., & Nauta, M. M. (2013). Examining the mediating effect of supervisor conflict on procedural injustice–job strain relations: The function of power distance. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 18(1), 64–74.
Russell, G. M., & Bohan, J. S. (2014). Toward a contextual understanding of psychology trainees’ religious conflicts. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 1(4), 293–301.
What are the five steps presented in the Conflict Resolution Formula
for use with a supervisee? To select and enter your answer go to .