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My employees won’t stop squabbling!

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in Your Office Coach

Question: “I manage a group of four women who bicker constantly. They are quick to “cop an attitude” and get defensive about stupid little things. To make it worse, I recently hired a young, inexperienced secretary who is very rude. When anyone tries to instruct her, she comes back with a smart-mouth response. I feel like I’m supervising a bunch of tattling two-year-olds. I wish they would all just shut up, get along and focus on work. Sometimes, I plan what I’m going to say about these issues, then I chicken out. I know I need a stronger backbone, but I'm not the type of manager who likes dealing with conflict.  What should I do?” — Tired Supervisor

Marie’s Answer: Having accepted a management position, you must be willing to do management work, which includes resolving performance problems.  Otherwise, you’re not earning your paycheck.

Get these squabbling children together, tell them you’re tired of the drama, and flatly state that they must start acting like professional adults. They don’t have to like each other, but they do have to be cooperative and civil.  This means no bickering, no tattling, no smart-mouth talk.  

Their behavior won’t change immediately, so view this as an ongoing project. If people bring trivial complaints, remind them of the standards, then change the subject. When you overhear silly quarrels, nip them in the bud.  

If your cheeky new secretary continues to mouth off, coach her privately. Provide examples of her ill-mannered comments, then describe more appropriate responses. Meet with her regularly to assess progress.  

If you’re too timid for such performance discussions, you should get out of management. Many kind, caring, sensitive folks fail as managers because they aren’t willing to do the tough stuff.  

But here’s the fun part. When you see improvement, reward your newly collaborative group with a staff celebration.  If your secretary becomes more tactful, tell her how proud you are. Then quietly pat yourself on the back for having those difficult conversations.

For more Office Coach tips on managing employee performance, see Ten Steps to an Exceptional Coaching Discussion.

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