Tessara Smith, PayScale
Office drama is the bane of any leader’s existence. You work your way through high school and college just to have all the immature hubabaloo you thought you left behind end up right in front of your face.
Except this time it’s worse. Your career is on the line, and it’s entirely up to you to put out the fire when two employees blow up at each other. In school a failed partnership meant a bad grade at worst, but in the working world employees in conflict can mean lost revenue.
Whether the conflict is legitimate or absolutely absurd, effectively handling it is a part of your job. Fortunately, it’s also an opportunity for growth and skill development. Here are a few tips for managing employees who can’t get along.
Encourage them to self-reflect
Get your employees to take a look in the mirror. Often the things we don’t like about someone are the same things we don’t like about ourselves. Ask both employees to reflect on their contributions to the conflict. It generally takes two to have a bad relationship. Getting both parties to take responsibility for any negative aspects they’re bringing to the table is a big step in eliminating any finger pointing that may be taking place.
Give them skills
We all have our set ways of getting things done. If your employees are working on a project that involves some degree of creativity, for example, you can bet they’ll butt heads when their visions don’t coincide.
Not everyone has been trained to appropriately react to criticism in a professional setting. You may need to coach employees how to not take criticism personally even as they remain open to learning from someone else. Remind your employees their work is valued, and redirect their hurt or angry feelings by refocusing their efforts on completing the project.
Identify their strengths
In the best teams, the skills of one member complement the skills of the other. You hired these employees for a reason. If you did your job well, their talents work in tandem, resulting in high-quality deliverables.
For instance, one worker may be excellent at coming up with ideas but fall short on following through with detail, while another is detail oriented but less creative. You can help each one to see the advantages in working with the other. Play to each worker’s strengths and identify where each can put his or her best attributes forward to meet company goals.
Advocate for a respectful office environment
If your employees can’t seem to recognize the office is not the high school cafeteria, draw their attention to your company policies. Champion the notion that your organization prides itself on having a healthy work environment and expects team members to treat one another with common courtesy. Oftentimes people just need to be reminded their behavior is heading in a direction that’s unacceptable to change it.
Use your HR professionals
Your HR team members are adept at handling employee conflict and have experience in resolving employee complaints. If you can’t settle things between your feuding employees, ask HR for some viable solutions.
Limit face-to-face interactions
As a last resort, you could request that employees limit their interactions to the virtual. It takes a lot more work to be passive-aggressive or rude over e-mail, and it’s easier to maintain a professional demeanor via written communication. As an added bonus, you’ll have a record of all the interactions between the two if the behavior escalates.
We all know that working with someone you can’t stand is stressful and draining, but it doesn’t have to end with your employees boxing up their offices and heading out the door. Most of us can learn a lot from succeeding in working with someone we hate when we’re not busy ruminating over his or her abrasive disposition. If you can effectively get warring employees to collaborate, then you’re set to handle just about any problem that could be thrown at you as a manager.