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Falling Out With Colleagues Is Natural, It’s How You Manage Difficult Relationships That Matters

Can’t we all just get along, asks the Secret Practitioner

The Secret Practitioner
by The Secret Practitioner

All right, hands up who hasn’t had a tiff with a colleague at some point.

I imagine it’s a more or less universal experience. We might be the friendliest person in the world, but it’s still impossible to like everyone. It’s best to just admit that it happens from time to time.

We’re stuck in a room with other adults for maybe eight or nine hours every working day and we have to put up with them. Inevitably, tensions will arise. But what can we do about it? Even if it’s natural to hate our colleagues’ guts once in a while, an early years setting can’t possibly operate with practitioners on the verge of starting World War III.

To create better staff relationships, first we have to identify the reasons why staff fall out with one another.

In most cases I don’t think sheer malice is a factor. We’re a lovely bunch and we can sort anything out if we try to.

No, from personal experience, the reasons for most arguments and fallings-out that I’ve seen boil down to one of the following:

1. Lack of communication 2. Difference of opinion on best practice 3. Personal issues.

Some settings will try to resolve issues by simply shunting feuding staff from room to room, but to me this doesn’t seem a good way of resolving problems long term. And there are a number of things any practitioner can do to avoid the above problems and develop the best possible working relationships with their colleagues, none of which are exclusive to childcare.

The first thing to bear in mind is the importance of communication.

Tensions often arise when practitioners aren’t operating on the same wavelength. Perhaps one staff member prioritises a certain activity – let’s say keeping the children occupied – whilst other practitioners may feel it more important to clear away plates after dinner.

I’ve seen situations like this create tensions, perhaps even a perception that one staff member is just playing with the children and not bothering to help out with the cleaning. Of course both tasks need carrying out and the workload can be shared between staff, but the best way to do this is to communicate about what is being done.

A simple “Can you set up an activity for the children whilst I clean up?” can do wonders! If there is continued debate about the division of labour in the room, drawing up a jobs rota will help.

I’ve also seen new employees suffer from a lack of communication. Rookies are often thrown straight into the job with very little instruction. It’s common for practitioners to struggle in their early days, and this can often be perceived as ‘not trying hard enough’.

If a new staff member doesn’t seem to be pulling their weight, make sure you give them clear guidance on what they’re meant to be doing. They’ll probably appreciate your help!

Another common cause of tensions in settings is a difference of opinion on how things should be done. There are very few absolutes when it comes to taking care of children, so different practitioners will have different ideas on how things should be done.

Perhaps there might be a disagreement over how to deal with a misbehaving child. I talked about communication earlier in the article and here that’s relevant again. Two mature adults having a conversation about an issue ought to be able to mutually agree on the best way forward. Other factors may help reach a decision, such as a setting’s official policy or guidance from management.

The last cause of arguments is personal problems. I am talking about issues not directly related to the setting, perhaps an argument that has taken place outside of work hours. Staff are bound to socialise with one another; it’s normal and often helps to strengthen staff bonds.

Unfortunately this will sometimes lead to fallings-out, and there’s nothing management can do about it. When this happens, it’s up to the staff themselves to get together and sort it out.

We’re all adults, we’re all childcare practitioners and we have to be as professional as we can for the children’s sake if nothing else.

The Secret Practitioner works in a private nursery and preschool in Greater Manchester.

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