Q: I supervise a group of women who argue constantly and seem to look for things to get upset about. On any given day, one or two of them will be angry with all the others. My newest employee has turned out to be a pouter who stops speaking for days at a time.

This ongoing drama not only disrupts office tranquility but also interferes with my ability to concentrate. Someone is always dropping by my office to tattle or complain. I would like to put an end to this chaos and finally get some peace, but I don't know how. As a non-confrontational person, I have trouble dealing with situations like this. Can you help?

A: Having accepted a supervisory position, you are obligated to perform necessary management tasks, even when they feel uncomfortable. Therefore, despite being "non-confrontational," you must still demonstrate leadership by addressing these serious performance issues.

Gather up your squabbling staff members, firmly inform them that the drama must end, and describe exactly how professional adults are expected to behave. Explain that they don't have to like each other, but they must be consistently pleasant and cooperative. This means no bickering, griping, pouting or tattling.

Because entrenched behaviors seldom disappear overnight, you should view this as an ongoing coaching project. If you overhear silly quarrels, immediately nip them in the bud. When employees come with trivial complaints, explain that they must let them go. And if some people are unwilling to change, you should begin the termination process.

Should you find that you are simply not up to this assignment, you may want to reconsider your management career. To become an effective supervisor, you must be willing to do the tough stuff.

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Q: When applying for jobs, I'm not sure what to do about cover letters. Some people say they're a waste of time because employers just throw them away. On the other hand, I've also heard they may have some benefits. Preparing both a resume and a cover letter seems like a lot of work, so unless an employer specifically requests one, is it OK to leave that out?

A: In my opinion, cover letters fall into the "can't hurt, might help" category -- assuming, of course, that they're properly done. Since job seekers should be looking for every possible advantage, preparing one seems worth the comparatively small effort. While "cover letter" sounds like something on paper, this is simply the narrative which accompanies your resume, whether it's a printed document, an online form, or an email.

Sending the same boring, two-sentence message to everyone will add no value at all, so approach this task as a chance to stand out from the crowd. While the resume provides a factual summary of your background, a letter can convey your personality and motivation, hopefully convincing employers that you're someone they should meet.

You can explain why the job interests you, what excites you about this organization, how your experience can add value, and the attributes that make you an outstanding employee. But be sure to avoid oversharing. Descriptions of pets, hobbies, personal problems or religious beliefs may be considered irrelevant or inappropriate.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and author. Send in questions and get free coaching tips at www.yourofficecoach.com.

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