What is Your Role When Two Subordinates are Feuding?
If the quarrel between two employees is adversely affecting the work of either, or of others, you may feel you should step in firmly between them to let them know that they had better get back on the ball. But avoid the temptation to try to influence their feelings towards each other. No matter how much you’d like them to be more friendly, you probably won’t succeed in changing their attitudes. You can only insist that their behavior toward each other doesn’t hurt their effectiveness.
• Don’t take sides. When the partisan complaint you hear from employees in conflict are general ones, you may feel tempted to simply agree with whomever happens to be speaking at the moment – to nod or otherwise indicate that you are in sympathy. This is particularly true if you like the person, or find even a grain of truth in their complaint. On the other hand, if personally you and the employee are not close or if you feel he or she is being unfair to the other person, you may be tempted to disagree. But it is best to let the employees work it out themselves, without your implied support of one or the other. The person whose side you endorse might use your agreement as a weapon. Worse, if you have the trust of both people, joining the feud could jeopardize your own effectiveness with them.
• Judge the issue, not the people. There are times, of course, when you will have to make a judgment about a work-related quarrel. If you decide one way, you will seem to be boosting one subordinate; if you decide the other way, your action will be interpreted as supporting his or her opponent. Try to keep personalities out of the discussion. Judge the merits of the argument alone. Try not to let the possible political repercussions of your choice influence you.
In announcing your decision, make both people aware of the real, work-related reasons why you made your choice. This minimizes your contribution to their war.
• Don’t extend favors to one of two feuding employees. The minute you extend any sort of favors to one over the other, you are, whether you mean to or not, taking sides in their conflict. Such favors can vary from seemingly innocent pieces of information – advance notices, in-depth backgrounds, supplementary information – to access to additional secretarial help, or to the bending of rules for special situations. If you must offer such a benefit to one, make sure the other understands it is available to him or her as well, should the need arise.
• Don’t speak for one to the other. This is another way a manager can unwittingly get caught in the middle between two antagonistic subordinates. One may be talking to you about something the other did or said. You feel the critic is being unfair, so you try to justify or explain the other person’s actions or words. In the process you can’t help but inject your own understanding of what one disputant meant. This may or may not be what the person actually meant, and in any case, it may be offensive to the critic. You are only complicating the misunderstanding. A better course might be to indicate to the person complaining to you that he or she really ought to take up the matter directly with the other person, and let that employee speak for himself or herself.
The final word: you may be tempted to try to keep them apart or assign work so that they don’t have to work together. But this could be a mistake. Not only could you seem to be reinforcing their quarrel, but you would deprive them of the best means to bridge the gap they have created: respect for each other’s abilities.
About: John A. Page, LFHIMSS
John is an accomplished executive with impressive senior-level strategic management experience and success recognized industry-wide for contributions to healthcare information technology and management systems. Nationally respected on topics of social media, technology and strategic business alignment, he serves as a Vistage Chair and Host of CEOIntroNet TV Chicagoland as well as an advisor to Boards and business leaders.