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Employee Engagement

5 Ways to Cope When Your Employees Don’t Get Along

Another Hollywood awards ceremony, another Hollywood scandal. I’m of course referring to Sunday night’s Golden Globes awards ceremony, where the biggest upset of the night happened before the show even started – with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie snubbing E!News correspondent Ryan Seacret on the red carpet.  Awkward!

Actually, not to defend the already overexposed couple, but it was kind of refreshing to see such a public show of distaste in a social circle that is bent on keeping up the appearance that everybody simply loves everybody.  Am I right?  I mean, that’s not exactly something people can get away with in an office environment, where there tends to be just as much pressure for employees to get along seamlessly. 

But unlike the Brad/Angie/Ryan situation (as so many things sadly are), your employees don’t have the luxury of simply calling their agents to demand that their enemy is kept at least 50 yards away at all times.  They’re still required to see and work with each other every day. 

Unfortunately for you, as the manager, you’re likely caught in the middle and are forced to play tie-breaker every time conflict erupts.  

And if not, chances are you’re dealing with it on the other end – with lost production or lower quality work output.  The Center for Dispute Resolution says that in high-conflict climates, employees are less likely to do work while fuming, think more about quitting and become less committed to their work. 

So to deal with office conflict effectively, try the following: 

  1. Let them vent.  Giving them your full attention, allow each employee involved in apparent conflict to state his case without fear of any judgment on your part.  
  2. Validate feelings.This doesn’t mean you have to “take sides,” but you should be objectively empathetic. A conflict between employees brings out some pretty raw emotions, and showing that you understand their feelings helps your employees let their guards down and diffuses tension.
  3. Get specifics.  Ask your employees to describe particular behaviors that are causing tension, rather than make general statements or judgments like, “She has such a bad attitude.” It is only behavior that you can reasonably expect to change, so once specific behaviors can be described and addressed, the discussion can become more grounded and reasonable.
  4. Find a common ground. You’ll probably never get your employees to be besties, but you can help work together productively to meet a goal they’re both interested in achieving.  Engage them to work together to create solutions.  Ask what it would take to resolve the conflict and what each employee is willing to contribute. And then hold each accountable.
  5. Follow through. Once you’ve gotten beyond the immediate employee conflict, establish a climate of perceived fairness and equity, and continuously check in with these workers.  

Depending on how it’s handled, addressing office conflict can ultimately strengthen the team.  You might even try countering tension before it even starts.

Consider bringing in a third-party consultant to facilitate issues and teach concepts to resolve future conflicts; enrolling your employees (and supervisors) in classes geared toward conflict resolution, problem solving, and teamwork; or having everyone take the Myers-Briggs personality-type test, which will help co-workers learn and appreciate that everyone communicates in different ways. 

What about you? Ever had to deal with fighting employees, and if so, how did you handle it?

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.
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