I listened to your podcasts on how to manage directs when I am having a conflict with a peer. I was struck by the similarity of issues when I am good friends with or even married to a peer. My wife (Miss High D) and I (Dr. High I) have worked as peers in small institutions for 25 years and for eight years as colleagues on the same project. Inevitably, conflict arises between my wife and one of my directs. The upshot is they don't believe that I will address the problem with my wife.

Through hard knocks, I hit on similar tools to those you outlined in your podcast: talk to the direct to get the facts, strip the emotions, go talk to my wife (usually at work after the second cup of coffee). Come back with concrete answers or solutions. Similar to your discussion about not voicing the conflict with directs, I have found it easier to not voice comments about the ups or downs of our relationships although, I am certain it is obvious. But, I don't want to empower my directs to act on the information.

After going through the steps (I know I haven't gotten to the second podcast), in some cases I find that either the issue was minor or the direct was in the wrong. I need an effective way of saying to my directs "Hey, I understand your concern but I think you need to let this one go. Here's why...." Inevitably, they think I am blowing them off and favoring my wife. The next thing I know, I am answering the phone from the department head over what was a minor problem to begin with.

A more generalized form of this problem, is working on a large project with peer who is a good friend. How do you efficiently let directs know that if it were appropriate, corrective action would happen with the peer, but that isn't called for in this situation?

I know the simple answer is history; if I have a track record of being fair people will credit me with balance. For the people who work with me for a long period, that works. The problem typically is with new employees or when I or the peer have changed jobs.

juliahhavener's picture

You, my friend, will probably always have some illusion of preference for your wife over your directs when conflicts arise. That will be the case because, as a professional, you quietly address and correct an issue without blame making or finger pointing.

When you take an issue to your wife, I'm certain that you are not addressing her as Mrs. Dr., you are addressing her as Ms. Professional. Because of that, you should be able to investigate the issue, give her feedback, and then give feedback to YOUR direct.

There are always three sides to every story: mine, yours, and the truth. When you're speaking to your directs, you need to be very sensitive to their issues, even when they are in the wrong. If they ARE in the wrong, you'll need to be able to demonstrate to them how you came to that conclusion (perception is such a slippery thing). What you say to Ms. Professional is NOT up for conversation. The fact that you accept your direct's feedback/concerns, address that specifically, and work with them to resolve their issues (or refer them to the other party in question if appropriate) should clear most of the impression of favoritism.

Unfortunately, I don't think it will go away entirely simply because people are people, and most people can't see far enough to separate their personal lives and their professional lives. They will naturally assume that you cannot, either.

Keep in mind, too, that we Ms. High D's can come off wrong in a lot of situations. We need feedback too...particularly about how to AVOID giving someone the impression we have a problem to begin with.

Mark's picture


My apologies for my delay. .

Well, it's an interesting problem, but it's no so complicated.

First, there's no doubt that familial relationships are often wisely considered anathema to organizational effectiveness for this very reason. it is not enough to be ethical and professional - one must be perceived as such.

There is nothing you will ever be able to do to completely eliminate newcomers' issues with professional discussions and disagreements with your spouse. It's foolish to attempt to do so. LET IT GO.

Those situations where you ask people to let stuff go are best handled exactly the way you put it. What's special about a different way?

"Hey, I understand your concern but I think you need to let this one go. Here's why...." That sounds great to me. The fact that they go tattle is not a reason to change a reasonable discussion.

If you're going to work in close quarters with your wife, you're going to have some conversations with others where their mistaken opinions are foisted on your work. Count it as the universe's attempt at balance for spending extra time with your bride.

Again, I regret my absence.