Conflict in the workplace can be caused by a boss playing favorites. I often compare the boss-employee relationship to the parent-child relationship. We all want our bosses to be fair. So let me talk about what drives the perception of fairness...because sometimes it’s really just a perception and as I've said before, not the truth. Let's look at the three drivers of fairness and then talk about why favoritism happens.

There are three drivers of employee perception of fairness
1. How a boss behaves
2. Input the employee has in decision making
3. How those decisions are made and implemented

How to Avoid Conflict in the Workplace:

Boss Behavior
So, the first piece of this is that employees expect bosses to behave in a certain way. We just expect more of our leaders and this may not be completely fair because bosses are also people with their own internal challenges. Anyone who puts a boss on a pedestal will eventually be disappointed.

Employee Input
Smart bosses get input from all employees, not just their favorites. Whether it's a suggestion box or asking for feedback in meetings, or sporadic visits inviting employees into your office; it is vital to communicate with your employees and seek their point of view. Seeking employee input will help reduce conflict in the workplace and negative workplace relationships.

Decision Making
There will be many occasions where a boss simply can't implement a suggestion. However, keeping employees in the loop and explaining why certain decisions were made and acknowledging the suggestions that were not implemented will go a long way to keeping workplace conflict at bay.

Favoritism and the Drama Triangle
Now that you know what drives the perception of fairness, let’s talk about why favoritism happens. A very common reason a boss favors an employee is because the employee is the informant. A boss may feel that she is getting inside information from a particular employee who is ratting on other co-workers or sharing inside secrets from the front lines, however this almost always causes more drama for the boss.

The fifth principle of the book, Stop Workplace Drama is "Stop Relationship Drama". I introduce a tool in this chapter called the Karpman Triangle. The three dysfunctional patterns on the triangle are victim, rescuer and persecutor. We all know what the victim behavior looks like, but the persecutor can be difficult to identify if their behaviors are subtle.

The persecutor is often the one who seems like a star performer, but often finds fault with everyone else, therefore the overall contribution from this star performer is drama rather than teamwork.

Let's say there’s a persecutor in your office who tattles to keep the boss informed. The boss may not even be aware of the manipulation but the employees all know what is going on. This person is usually in the office with the boss a lot more than anyone else. My advice to bosses is to beware of the whistle blower or tattle tale. It is very likely that this person is causing the trouble even if they are a star performer in your eyes.

Author's Bio: 

Marlene Chism is the author of Stop Workplace Drama. She helps managers and business leaders increase employee engagement, improve conflict in the workplace, and improve negativity and low morale. Visit Stop Workplace Drama to learn the eight principles help leaders gain clarity and reduce workplace drama.