May 21, 2018

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Personality Conflict May Be Something More

Dear Joan:

I have two employees who have a major personality conflict. One is a new employee who is young and eager to get ahead and the other is a long-term employee, who has been in her job for over fifteen years.

The problem is that the older one wonít share what she knows. I have told her she needs to train the younger employee but at every turn the younger person is stonewalled or only told just so muchónot given the whole picture.

The issue has become a major concern because the body of work that the older employee has control over is growing in volume, to the point that she can no longer do the job alone. In addition, I think we are vulnerable as a company if she doesnít have a back-up person trained.

When I have discussed this in the past with the employee, she claims that itís just too complicated, or she has such a big workload that she canít find time to train anyone. I have repeatedly explained that this is a catch-twenty-two. If she doesnít make the time to train someone it will just get worse.

An additional factor is that we are going to be computerizing some of the older employeeís area and I can already tell that she is threatened and resistant. When I push her she tells me that the new person just isnít reliable enough and isnít paying attention to all the details. She complains that the new employee isnít able to learn the job and she is making serious mistakes. Frankly, I think she is overstating this and that it is just an excuse. Any suggestions?


There may be several things at work here. First, the senior employee may indeed feel threatened. But it may help to dig a little deeper to understand her resistance. Then, you may be able to get her to cooperate. Ideally, you wonít have to force her with a heavy hand.

This employee probably has a great deal of pride about her work. After all, sheís been the only one with that expertise, and to share that may feel like a big loss. In addition, she may feel that she is not appreciated, since others seem to be wrestling away her source of accomplishment and self-worth. I think youíll make more progress if you appeal to that pride.

Hereís what Iíd recommend. Schedule a conversation with the senior employee to have a heart to heart discussion about her concerns. Make sure you give her past work ample acknowledgement and tell her that her expertise makes her the ideal person to take a leadership role and mentor the new employee.

Itís important that she understands why her expertise must be shared. Reassure her about her role after the new person is trained, so she doesnít think you are trying to replace her. Ask for her help in the context that the company needs her help to figure out a way to mentor the new employee so she can learn the job without making serious mistakes.

Listen carefully to her suggestions. Itís entirely possible that she doesnít really have a clue about how to train someone. She may have learned the job over time, so feels that itís impossible to teach someone everything. You may need to help her break it down into manageable pieces.

For instance:

  1. What are the top five most important things the new employee must be able to do first? What would be a good way for her to learn them?
  2. In what areas do you fear that she could make the most serious mistake and how could you make sure that doesnít happen? You will be able to make suggestions about how to monitor her progress and check her work while giving her room to try new things.
  3. Exactly how have you trained her in the past? How did she respond? This will give you some insight about how she teaches and how the new employee learns.
  4. Set up a schedule with specific items to be learned by a series of dates. Schedule follow-ups with both employees together each week. During these progress review meetings, ask the new employee to share what sheís learned and ask the senior employee to report on her approach and progress.

While this may be more involvement than you would like to have, it might be necessary to make sure this information is transferred quickly and accurately.

If this approach doesnít work, you will need to force the issue and make it clear that the senior employee is putting her job at risk by not cooperating in this important effort. In cases where the employee refuses to share what she knows, you are often better off without heróeven if it means people have to scramble to pick up the pieces.

-Joan Lloyd

Joan Lloyd has a solid track record of excellent results. Her firm, Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding. This includes executive coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, customized leadership training, conflict resolution between teams or individuals, internal consulting skills training for HR professionals and retreat facilitation. Clients report results such as: behavior change in leaders, improved team performance and a more committed workforce.
Joan Lloyd has earned her C.S.P. (certified speaking professional) designation from the National Speakers Association and speaks to corporate audiences, as well as trade & professional associations across the country. Reach her at (800) 348-1944,, or

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