When To Pick Your Battles With Employees

Angry BirdIt’s a given that you will disagree with your employees sometimes.

Even the perfect employee or one that agrees with you on most things will sometimes do something you don’t like.

It’s your challenge, as the leader, to know when to engage in a battle and when to let things play out.

It’s definitely not easy.

Engage in the wrong battle and it can lead to a bigger mess than what originally occurred. Kind of the Streisand Effect. A photo of her home was posted. Not many people really cared. Then she engaged in battle to have it removed and brought huge attention to the issue.

This can happen for large brands, but it can also happen at small companies.

Let’s say you’re in a meeting. An employee gets upset at something you say. You get upset and escalate. Things continue to escalate. The entire team in the meeting sees it. The situation heads out of control.

Is that situation good? Most would say that it isn’t.

You can’t control everything your employees do or say. But you can control how you react.

Here are a few tips for knowing when to hold back on battling with employees.

1. Listening & Solution Mindset

A big issue with battles in the work place is that an employee may not feel heard. Especially by the boss. If they lash out in some way it’s usually a cry for help or a cry to be heard.

It’s the leader’s job to listen. Escalating the battle with defensive or offensive language almost never makes the situation better. I can’t think of a time when it helps bring about a solution.

A good first step is to listen. Sit down with the person and listen. Figure out what they’re feeling and why they’re feeling that way. Try to get to the root of the problem.

Once you understand the situation you can work toward a solution.

The tendency even when listening is to provide your outlook at the situation. This can still come off as defensive and belittling to the other person. It usually won’t lead to resolution.

However, as the leader you want to do what’s best for the business. That is your position. You work to find a way for the employee to feel better while also improving the business. If the employee feels they will feel better in a certain way, but that way harms the business then a parting of ways may be necessary.

In any case, it’s about finding a solution, not escalating the tension around the issue.

2. Long-Term Outlook & Fit

How will it play out in the long-term. Your actions. Their actions. Can the relationship continue to work?

When things become heated it’s easy to stay in the moment. It’s easy to let emotions take over.

Instead, take some time to first listen and understand the person. Look for a solution.

But really look at the long-term outlook. Play out various scenarios in your mind. The person acts. You respond. You do this back and forth…

Think about where it will ultimately lead.

Too often we’re only thinking about the current step or the next step. Think several steps down the line. This will give you a better picture of how the relationship fits together and if you need to make a change right now to avoid a prolonged negative situation.

3. Your Responsibility

Ultimately a situation where a battle could occur comes down to your responsibility. What you control.

You hired the person. Or you continued to employ them. You could try to force the person to change. Or you could see if maybe there is something you should change.

Either way, look at what’s good for the company. Consider the decisions. Find the one that is best for the long-term prospects of the company.

That’s not always easy because they may not always align with your own best interests or with your ego.

For example, you may need to admit fault for letting something get out of hand. It would be best for the company if you did in some instances.

But it’s not good for your ego.

When a situation arises, step back and consider your responsibility in the situation. Look at how you may have played some fault in the scenario.

Then work toward a solution without additional conflict.


Going to battle almost never results in positives. Especially in business.

There’s a great line in the movie Lord Of War. It’s the final line in the movie:

That’s the secret to survival. Never go to war.

It’s true in life and in business. The more you go to war with your employees, partners and even competition the more likely you are to go out of business.

The key to survival in business is avoiding battle.

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