Part 4: Challenges to the Supervisory Relationship

Activity 4.1: Supervisor-Student Relationship Management


This activity explores challenges to the supervisory relationship. It begins with two video clips and the opportunity to discuss the issues presented in the clips. This is followed by reading materials on games people play, conflict management and problem solving.

Video Clip: Crossing Boundaries

Video Clip: Power Plays

Readings for Reflection

Villeneuve Article – Games People Play (pdf)
Conflict Management
Strategies for Dealing with Conflict 1. Define the problem.
  • What is the nature of the conflict?
2. Assess the Situation.
  • What will result if nothing happens?
  • What are the negative consequences of the conflict?
  • What are the negative consequences of ignoring the conflict?
  • What differences will it make if we resolve the conflict?
3. Focus on behaviours which may be causing the problem.
  • Be effective in initiating a discussion on conflict.
  • Do not focus on personality traits that may cause problems, focus on what is happening that is causing the problem.
  • Listen to the other person.
4. Become aware of the advantages and disadvantages of the different styles of conflict management that are being utilized. 5. Generate a number of possible solutions. 6. Decide together on the best solution. Negotiation is a key skill. 7. Implement the solution.
  • How will the solution be carried out?
8. Follow-up on the solution. Determine if a problem still exists. If the first solution has flaws, the problem solving process should begin again. Curtis (1988) Conflict Management The ability to cope with conflict is an important skill for students to learn in the fieldwork setting. In order to provide effective supervision the supervisor may be in the position of having to identify and manage conflict. The conflict can occur between student and supervisor, student and client or student and other team members. Conflict is not necessarily dysfunctional. Conflict can stimulate the search for new information and solutions. Each of us has a variety of conflict management behaviours. As we mature we develop preferred styles for dealing with conflict. Although there may be nothing inherently wrong with any specific conflict management style, certain approaches may be more or less appropriate depending on the situation and the individual involved. The following descriptors may be helpful in recognizing a variety of conflict management behaviours. Competition – This style reflects a desire to meet one’s own needs and concerns at the expense of the other party. This is a power-oriented style in which one utilizes whatever power one can generate. Collaboration – Those using a collaborative style aim to co-operate with others. This approach takes more time and energy than a competitive approach. When both parties are committed to the resolution this is the preferred style since the outcome meets the needs of both. Avoidance – This approach is characterized by uncooperative and unassertive behaviour. The conflict is not addressed and the issue is evaded. Avoidance can be used effectively as a means of reducing tension or as a strategy when the damage associated with confronting the issue may be greater than the benefit of its resolution. Accommodation – This refers to placing the other party’s needs and concerns above one’s own even if one has strong needs or concerns about the situation. This may be effective when one individual’s needs are more intense than the other’s. Compromise – This refers to an approach in which each party is encouraged to give in to the other’s needs and desires. There is bargaining about needs and beliefs without focusing on gaining an understanding of the major problem. This approach is useful when both parties are committed to different goals, when there is not adequate time for the discussion that would be necessary for collaboration or when attempts to collaborate have been unsuccessful.
Conflict Management Styles Worksheet

When is this approach useful?

What are the disadvantages to this approach?

Problem Management Students will experience varying degrees of difficulty in fieldwork education. It may be difficult for a supervisor to recognize that a student is experiencing significant difficulty in the clinical setting. ‘ Health care professionals believe in the individual’s capacity to develop and change. It is for this reason that supervisors may err in giving students “the benefit of the doubt” thus minimizing the significance of the learner’s problems. It is important for supervisors to develop the skill to recognize when a student is experiencing problems in the clinical setting. Problems may arise in the following areas:
  • integration of theory and practice;
  • clinical reasoning skills;
  • interpersonal skills; and/or
  • clinical/technical skills;
Power Relationship

How Power Can Impact Student Field Instructor Relationship

Power can function as a vehicle of support
  • Using role to seek student feedback, elevate student competence, provide useful feedback for learning, discuss relationship attending to students’ emotional reactions
Power can be misused
  • Providing only negative feedback
  • Crossing students’ personal boundaries
  • Viewing student as paid worker
Power can be abdicated
  • Giving students too little structure
  • Being too friendly and supportive (e.g. reluctant to give negative feedback)
  • Often a result of discomfort in the role or attempt to overcompensate for power/authority
Students can also abdicate power by not discussing their concerns. If it is clearly established at the beginning of the relationship that this is an expectation and necessary for learning and if when students actually bring concerns they are considered, processed and result in change then this can be managed. Students also use power of resistance to not hand in work, cancel supervision etc … What is this about? Can this be framed as a balance between autonomy and accountability? Are some assignments too unfitting for students? Tamara Sussman, McGill University, School of Social Work

Let’s Discuss

  • Reflections

    With regard to the video: Why is the student uncomfortable? What are your suggestions for avoiding this kind of problem? When you were a student, did your supervisor ever utter misplaced comments that made you feel uncomfortable? How do you think you might handle this now?

  • Games

    Having seen the video and read the material, share your experiences and reflections about game playing in a supervisory context.

  • Thoughts?

    After having finished this portion of part 4, do you have any last thoughts that you would like to share?

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