Tips for stews on being direct with co-workers

Apr 8, 2016 by Alene Keenan

Have you ever lived with a crew member who drives you crazy? Sometimes crew values and manners don’t balance out, and it is hard to get along. Should you say something about it, or just ignore it? Everyone has the right to a good living environment, and at some point the issue has to be addressed.  For many stews, being direct with other crew members is uncomfortable.

Most service-minded people want to be liked and they want to avoid conflict. Ignoring an uncomfortable situation might seem like the thing to do, but it only makes the tension build. Criticizing others can feel like you are overstepping your boundaries, however, when rules are broken, it needs to be pointed out. In such close quarters, a little bit of tension can really rock the boat.

Knowing when to bring up interpersonal conflicts and what to say is an important skill. Being direct and fair in communication takes practice. To speak your mind about someone’s actions or behavior without putting the other person on the spot, learn the four key principles below. You can be sure that your words will come off as professional, not insensitive or rude.

  1. Stay neutral. Be clear about the offense, but don’t attack or be sarcastic. When people feel they are being confronted, they become defensive, embarrassed or uncomfortable.
  2. Don’t judge the other person. Imagine how you might feel in their situation, and then think about whether or not this issue is really so important. What is best for the group, not the individual, is the way to go. Focus on the bigger picture and on a common goal rather than on whatever is bothering you personally.
  3. Stay positive and don’t assume the worst. They might not know that what they are doing is considered wrong in the current situation, or may be unaware of how their behavior is affecting others. Discuss the issue together to relieve some of the pressure and gain valuable insight about each other.
  4. Bring up violations of the rules right away. Just because the circumstances make you feel uncomfortable, doesn’t mean you can ignore a situation that needs to be addressed.

Here are a few common yachting scenarios to put these to work:


If you work on a yacht you are going be micromanaged. Attention to detail is VERY important on a yacht, and maybe your work needs to improve. Don’t get defensive or sarcastic. A good way to respond while remaining respectful could go something like this: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been watching me closely. I want to know how I can do better to give you what you need and build confidence in my ability.”

Gossipy crew members

The tendency to gossip and backstab others when we live in a close situation is common, but it is toxic, immature behavior. Be an adult, treat each other as equals, and learn to confront each other respectfully. If a team member is misbehaving, you might bring it to their attention that others are noticing.  “Hey, you might not be aware of this, but people are starting to resent the way you’re constantly discussing others. I just wanted to give you a heads-up that you might want to tone it down a bit.”

Not pulling their weight

That’s what checklists are for. When somebody is skipping over important tasks, it is pretty easy to see where the problem is. If they need a reminder, that’s one thing, but if they need training, that’s another. Don’t ridicule: Gee, Evan, you don’t seem to put the dishes away right no matter how many times you unload the dishwasher. Do you know what you’re doing?” It might work better to offer support. Say something like, “Evan, I know you’re trying hard, and I appreciate that. I’d like to help you improve the quality of your work so it’s level with the rest of the team.”

Someone is stepping on your toes

Don’t confront them with hostility: “Look, Ashlee, I’m in charge of tending bar in the evening. Not you. I think we’ll get along much better if you let me run things my way.” Do open up a conversations and ask for feedback, with something like this: “Ashlee, you seem to be very interested in how the bar is being run in the evening. I’d like to know how you think the PM service team can work together more effectively.”

Maybe your solutions are more subtle than those listed above, but even so, you’re only being more indirect. Misunderstandings lead to hostility and hurt feelings which often turn into insults that degrade and de-motivate. Don’t be subtle—be direct, but with finesse. Only then will your efforts be met with the positive results you desire.

Alene Keenan is lead instructor of yacht interior courses at Maritime Professional Training in Ft. Lauderdale. She shares her experience from more than 20 years as a stew in her book, “The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht”, available at and on Contact her at


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