Two of my employees are driving me crazy. They are constantly running to me with complaints about one another. I’ve tried to get the two of them to work out their differences but it’s just no use. I feel like I spend half my time listening to their tirades. I don’t know if it’s something personal or just bad chemistry but I’m at my wits end. How can I make them get over it and get to work?
A.When two employees develop this pattern, expecting them to work it out or to get over it is futile. If they knew how, they would have done it already. So they’re resorting to what I call the “I’m telling!” method of conflict resolution, a strategy they learned as children. (“I’ll see you in court!” is a common adult version of the same strategy.) The principle behind it is to present your case to an authority figure who will, of course, rule in your favor. It’s effective because usually the authority figure will make a ruling. The drawback is that someone usually loses. So while the dispute is settled, the bad feelings remain, creating new and bigger disputes in the future. This will continue until the authority figure gets fed up and sends them both to their rooms, holds them in contempt, or writes them up. In the meantime, allies become involved, and in a work setting, morale deteriorates, and productivity goes out the window.
Tell them you expect them to settle this themselves, but since they apparently lack effective conflict resolution skills, give them some help. My advice is to bring in a trained mediator who is neutral and has experience in workplace disputes. I’d recommend against your trying to fill that role yourself, even if you have great skills, because it can be difficult to let people reach their own solutions when you’re usually the decision-maker. In addition, it’s wise to hold yourself in reserve, because they need to be accountable, and if they can’t resolve this even with outside help, you may still have to use your authority to “send them to their rooms”.