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It had been a very hectic Monday at the clinic: appointments were running over; emergencies had taken up more time than usual and when a patient showed up over an hour late for his appointment, the front desk receptionist told him he would have to reschedule for another day. When John Chu, the physician's assistant (PA) who had been scheduled to meet with the patient, heard that the appointment had been canceled, he erupted in anger in front of a waiting room full of patients. The receptionist, Lilly Brown, had burst into tears and called Drew Thompson, head of Employee Relations, about filing a grievance.

Recognizing that there was more to know about the situation, and aware that both employees were generally good workers, Drew suggested to Lilly that a first step in the hospital's policy was an opportunity to take part in an Exchange session. He arranged to meet with Lilly later that afternoon. (He also agreed to make arrangements with her supervisor to cover her workstation during that time.) And he stopped by the PA's office to schedule a private meeting with John before he went off duty.

In the previous part of the book, we examined each stage of The Exchange in detail, with an extended example. This chapter looks at a second example of the classic Exchange, in which the manager meets with two employees to resolve issues around their working relationship. Information is presented in a comprehensive way and summarizes the important aspects of the process, its stages, and some useful techniques. In later chapters, we will explore variations and adaptations of The Exchange that managers have found to be helpful.

The Exchange is a key early option for managers facing a conflict under their watch. It can be initiated by:

  • The manager who becomes aware of the problem.

  • One of the involved parties who asks for it.

  • A person in authority who asks a manager to conduct the process.


The convener of The Exchange needs to be someone who is respected by both parties. It should also be someone who has ties to those involved and is a normal part of the chain of command. If the power distance between the parties and the convener is too great—if, for example, Radha Samson herself or even Drew Thompson had conducted the earlier process—the process would likely have taken on the aura of being a disciplinary session, regardless of what had been said to deny it. In such a situation the parties are often "infantilized" and simply wait for the "boss" to tell them what to do rather than take responsibility themselves. They lose a little face by having someone much further up in the hierarchy call attention to the incident by getting directly involved.

Instead, the convener should be someone ...

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