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Manage combatants to see past their differences

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in Workplace Communication,Workplace Conflict

When two employees argue, you don’t want to get stuck in the middle. But as a supervisor, you need to do something.

If the bickering isn’t intense, tell the combatants to figure out a way to get along—and e-mail you with their shared strategy for establishing a harmonious working relationship. This forces them to do their own heavy lifting to bridge their differences.

Here are other tactics to tame arguing employees:

Concentrate on “me,” not “we.” Angry workers, like exasperated children, might launch into a litany of grievances about the other person. They’ll say, “It’s his fault” or “She started it.” Shift the focus so that employees make “I” statements. Demand they start every sentence with “I” (as in, “I don’t understand Jim’s reaction.”). This encourages speakers to take responsibility for their role in the dispute.

Keep ‘em busy. In many organizations, people bicker because they have too much time on their hands. If you’re seeing an increase in skirmishes among team members, assess their workload. Are people too idle? Are they accountable for meeting performance standards? You may want to pile a bit more on their plate so they’re too busy to fight.

Request a “six-month report.” Some conflicts seem so intractable that employees are unable to look past them. Alter their perspective by asking them to describe how they predict their work situation will change in six months. Ideally, you want both of them to imagine that they’ve found a way to get along. Once they do that, you can work backward with them to identify action steps that will help produce that desirable outcome.

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