Crew Management

Tips for Crew Conflict Resolution

22 June 2021By Kylie O'Brien
iStock/z_wei

Written by

Kylie O'Brien

Kylie O’Brien has worked on some of the world’s most magnificent vessels with amazing people for more than 13 years. A graduate of The Australian College of Applied Psychology, she is the author of Crew Wanted, The Stewardess Bible, The Chief Stewardess Bible, The Inside Job, and has been a monthly contributor to Dockwalk magazine for more than five years.

Working on board a superyacht can be a tough job from time to time. Sure, the work can be physically grueling, and the guests can be very demanding, but what usually gets to the crew is if there’s a conflict with another crewmember or in their personal life.

I argue that you can always work around the demands of the guests, the long hours, and the stresses of working at sea, but what if there is a conflict within your home away from home?

Conflict can occur when two or more parties’ values or needs are not compatible, which can manifest into a full-blown confrontation. This point can easily be seen in any episode of Below Deck — albeit the show is somewhat exaggerated, the basis of many of the conflicts remain the same. Resolving conflict within the interpersonal roles of the crew is a vital skill to learn.

A Relatable Case Study

To begin with, let us look at a real scenario that you may be able to relate to. The primary guests had booked to eat in a Michelin-star restaurant for dinner. However, their teenage children were to remain on board for a movie night. A light meal of hors d’oeuvres, pizza, and dessert was ordered for the children.

In my experience, professional crew in general are genuinely nice, open-minded people — which is why it’s unusual for conflict to arise due to one reason only.

The chef had previously had an inconsequential run-in with the second stewardess that day. She was also having personal problems with her boyfriend. After serving drinks, and setting up the movie for the guests, the chief stewardess went to the galley to collect some hors d’oeuvres, only to find the chef completely drunk, barely being able to stand, mumbling to herself, and precariously working with a knife and a hot pan.

What would you do? For many crew in management positions, they may say “fire her” for gross professional negligence. She not only failed to do her job, but she also placed everyone in danger by working with dangerous objects while under the influence of alcohol.

And you could be right in saying that, but what about the chef as a person, the owners of the yacht who love her cooking, professional longevity, and the collective wellbeing of the team?

What To Do First

In this instance as the chief stewardess, you could take the following steps:

  • Firstly, stay calm. The crewmember at the center of this drama is already in an agitated state with raging emotions, so calmly remove her from the situation.
  • Next, ask for help immediately to serve the guests and continue making meals for the children.
  • When the crewmember has rested (and is sober), engage in effective communication.

Effective Communication

This means establishing firm boundaries that align with the yacht’s standard operating procedures. Remain on track and state the facts of the situation. You may need to break down the issue into three different subjects: being drunk at work, fighting with the second stewardess, and asking if they would like to discuss their personal issues with you.

Next, listen! As an effective communicator and manager, it’s vital that you master this skill. There is a massive difference between hearing and understanding. Do not jump to conclusions, engage in hearsay, or gossip — this is counterproductive and may hinder your objective of resolving the issue. Nor should you accuse, put down, criticize, or judge those involved in the conflict.

Let the person or parties tell their side of the story and try to understand where they’re coming from. Next, review the evidence or what you have just heard. Repeat it back to them to make sure that you have all the details straight.

Stop the Cycle

Once you have gathered all the background information regarding a particular conflict, the next step is to stop the issue from recurring. One such resolution may be to have a thorough discussion with the offending crewmember. Afterwards, consider writing up a final warning and logging it in the captain’s logbook, as this could be a fair action to take against the professional conflict. If the destructive, unprofessional behavior continues, then a dismissal would be the next action.

When it comes to the more petty issue with the second stew, this could be resolved with a simple open-table discussion. In my experience, professional crew in general are genuinely nice, open-minded people — which is why it’s unusual for conflict to arise due to one reason only. With this in mind, it is important for individuals to take personal responsibility and accountability for their actions in the conflict.

There is a massive difference between hearing and understanding. Do not jump to conclusions, engage in hearsay, or gossip.

A kind ear and understanding may be just what the person needs to unload their private distress. Remember that we are
all human.

As the interior manager, you will be called upon time and time again to defuse a variety of conflicts. The key is to establish firm personal and professional boundaries that align with the yacht’s standard operating procedures. Be open minded without prejudice and engage in effective communication with the people involved. By doing this, you will find ways to manage conflicts on board without breaking your spirit or stressing you out. This will likely result in a win-win situation for all parties involved.

This article originally ran in the May 2021 issue of Dockwalk.

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