This was a past situation. There was a presentation that only allowed one employee to present. Two of my employees, employees A and B, really wanted to do the presentation. Due to the time-frame and nature of the company, it was near certain that there would not be an opportunity like this again, so I couldn't say "Employee A this time, B next time". The employees were already not on great terms with each other due to personal differences outside of the workplace.

Although Employee B thought she was equally qualified, Employee A was more qualified for this task, so I would rather her do it. How could I have let Employee A do the presentation without hurting Employee B's feelings, especially given the already tense relationship between the two?

  • There was really no way for them to present half each? Mar 13, 2018 at 15:20
  • It was for a competition and the competition only allowed one
    – abagh0703
    Mar 13, 2018 at 15:21
  • Only one presenter? Then maybe you should add that to the question, just to make it absolutely clear for others who might have wanted to help. Mar 13, 2018 at 15:22
  • 1
    If it is for a competition, do they understand that being better is what it is all about?
    – user8365
    Mar 13, 2018 at 16:27
  • 1
    As long as your criteria for selecting A over B is clear and fair, B doesn't have room to complain.
    – jcmack
    Mar 13, 2018 at 17:28

4 Answers 4


As a manager, it is important that you choose the best person for the job, that is more important than whether one of the employees will be unhappy. As long as you have good objective criteria for the choice, which you seem to have, then you are on sound footing.

The objective criteria is the starting point of your discussion with employee B. This can be treated like other constructive feedback scenarios. Let that employee understand what the criteria were and explain how the employee can work to improve in those areas. It is important that these not come across to the employee as failures, but rather an area to improve. No matter how good we are at our job, there is quite likely someone in our company that is better at some skill or function and we all have areas where we could improve.

Employees want to know that they are being treated fairly in these scenarios, but they also need to know that fairly is not the same as equally. If employee B can not understand and accept this objective evaluation, then you likely can't keep them from being unhappy/hurt anyway. While managers should be sensitive to how they deliver the message, the facts still need to be delivered. You won't be helping this employee if you shelter them from sometimes painful truth.


Just tell A "you have been selected".

Just tell B "you have not been selected". If B asks why then "I felt A would be stronger for this task". If B feels they are as good then no good could come from debating it with them.

  • But shouldn't I still give B more details as to why A would be stronger, despite the likely ensuing debate? I feel that a terse statement with little explanation may come off as being unjust.
    – abagh0703
    Mar 13, 2018 at 17:44
  • @abagh0703 Up to you. Be ready for a debate.
    – paparazzo
    Mar 13, 2018 at 17:46
  • 2
    This answer would be better if it backed up why this is the best way to bring it without hurting feelings.
    – Erik
    Mar 13, 2018 at 21:22
  • @Erik I think this is a case of the employee just needs to put on their big boy pants.
    – paparazzo
    Mar 13, 2018 at 21:25
  • I guess I could say the same for down votes.
    – paparazzo
    Mar 13, 2018 at 21:26

Let both people do the preso and choose the best result to be used in the real competition. Make it a battle of solutions, not a selection between people.

If the real preso takes too much time, timebox drafting and compare the drafts.

  • Not a bad idea. But, in that case, the team members should decide who gives the "preso" (presentation, cobber? ;-) - not the boss Mar 14, 2018 at 7:00
  1. You might have asked them to define how you would make the choice. Find some set of criteria which they could both agree on, suggested by them. And then you decide.

  2. Offer some other "goodie". You say there won't be another exactly like this, but there will be something. A trip; the chance to be first to play with some new tech ...

  3. A coin toss. Tell them that you can't decide as you think they are equally good (even though you prefer A; saying this keeps the peace), so you will have to flip a coin (and state beforehand if it's best of 1, bets of 3, etc)

If you are not an only child, remember something your mother did with you as a sibling. For instance, to divide a chocolate bar, my mother would have one split & one choose. Perhaps one decides an alternative "goodie" as per my point 2) and the other gets to choose whether they want the goodie or to do the presentation.

  • 2
    For option 1, wouldn't that lead to more debate among the two regarding who fits the criteria they chose better?
    – abagh0703
    Mar 13, 2018 at 15:28
  • Yes, it's a tough one (+1). Both will tend to choose criteria which show them in the best light. maybe they each get to nominate 3 criteria and reject 2? I'm not really sure, I just wanted them to have some input. Mar 13, 2018 at 15:30
  • 2
    for a moment I thought you was going to suggest using a fake coin to influence the result OP wants. Mar 13, 2018 at 19:00

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