Over the years I’ve noticed that many disagreements at work begin with confusion about a person’s role and the expectations of the role. Often this has been going on for years and people are left floundering, getting on with the job to the best of their ability but with a nagging sense that they’re not doing enough. It can be a source of much stress and anxiety.

If this resonates, you’re not alone.

In the worst cases, people have gone into a role with a job description that is so vague it’s unsurprising that they are totally unclear. In one case, there was no job description at all. (Yes it does happen). More often, though, it is the understanding of what the job involves and which elements should be given priority that creates problems.

Let’s be honest, many job descriptions are more like wish-lists to Santa, spelling out every possible area of responsibility and task that the person might be expected to undertake. These days everyone is over-stretched, trying to cram more and more into their working days. Managers have crazy workloads that never really end and job roles morph and change over time to the extent that often someone ends up doing a completely different job to the one that they were originally employed to do.

Given these contexts, it’s not surprising this is a grey area that is ripe for tensions.

The challenge for the individual is to decide how they actually use their time.  Conflicts can arise when colleagues or managers and staff have very different expectations about these things.

Some examples of areas of tension include:

  • Which project, programme or tasks should be prioritised.

  • Who is responsible for leading on a particular project or programme.

  • What support is given and expected in terms of supervision and mentoring.

  • How things are communicated and who is included in those communications.

  • When there is a difference of opinion or some concerns about a piece of work, how this is dealt with.

  • Whether or not home-working is permitted, and if so for how much of the time (in relevant industries).

  • How much to engage as part of a team and how much to ‘go it alone’.

So how to deal with this?

The key thing is to deal with the situation sooner rather than later. If it is avoided, it won’t go away, rather it’s more likely to grow and become a bigger problem further down the line.

In my experience as a mediator, there is no substitute for face to face, open conversation. Texts and e-mails are good for setting up these meetings but they almost never work when the discussion is ongoing and important. Although they seem to be efficient, e-mails end up taking up more time. Here are some top tips for anyone faced with this situation:

  • Bite the bullet and fix ‘that’ meeting with your line manager. It won’t be as bad as you think. If they are really busy, keep pressing for the meeting until you pin them down.

  • Prepare for the meeting by thinking in advance about what you really need and what you’d ideally want to get out of the meeting. Be specific.

  • Manage your state of mind and emotion. Use whatever grounding practices you have in your toolkit- mindfulness, meditation, prayer to also prepare your attitude to be open and receptive.

  • Go into the meeting with a humble and listening attitude.

  • Practice summarising what the other person says to check your understanding.

  • Ask questions and don’t be afraid to ask what an acronym or piece of jargon actually means.

Putting in place these tips will set the frame for some high-quality and open communication.

And hopefully, you’ll have more clarity at the end of it.