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Section 2
Managing Difficulties in Supervision

Question 2 | Test | Table of Contents

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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.

It 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 probably 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 - Observation
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…"

As you 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 next step.

♦ 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
In addition 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 - Desire
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.

Obviously, 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.

In 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.
Reviewed 2023

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Borelli, J. L., Sohn, L., Wang, B. A., Hong, K., DeCoste, C., & Suchman, N. E. (2019). Therapist–client language matching: Initial promise as a measure of therapist–client relationship quality. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 36(1), 9–18.

Chui, H., Li, X., & Luk, S. (2021). Does peer relationship matter? A multilevel investigation of the effects of peer and supervisory relationships on group supervision outcomes. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 68(4), 457–466.

DePue, M. K., Liu, R., Lambie, G. W., & Gonzalez, J. (2020). Examining the effects of the supervisory relationship and therapeutic alliance on client outcomes in novice therapists. Training and Education in Professional Psychology. Advance online publication. 

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 Test

Section 3
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