Welcome to Advisory Board, a weekly department in which a panel of experts—made up of entrepreneurs and professionals—answer questions you have about how to run your business better.
This week, a reader asks:
“After several years of peaceful coexistence, two of my star employees are no longer getting along. Each has made critical comments about the other to me, and their passive-aggressive behaviour in in meetings is having an effect on the rest of my staff. What’s the best way to get them to stop fighting, or at least to keep a lid on it?”
Here’s what the experts have to say.
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“You need to find out why they’re not getting along and deal with that. I’d simply ask them each individually, “I am surprised to hear you being critical of X as you seemed to work together so well in the past. Has something happened between you two?” It could be jealousy (if one makes more than the other), it could be a power and control issue (if one or both have a need to feel positional superiority), it could be some sort of perceived or actual personal slight, or it could all be a complete misunderstanding.
“Once you understand the source of the divide you can deal with it productively and engage them both in the solution. But be prepared to have to let one of them go if one or both is unwilling to play along.
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“If they’re star employees, they’re probably responsible enough for you to ask them to put a lid on it. This is just a temporary fix at best but now, you have time for a proper solution—hopefully.
You are going to have to spend some time with each of them, t ask each of them why heor she is so annoyed with or by the other. This is not very likely to solve the problem, but at least you can over the course of the discussion let each know how much you would like to see them get along for the good of everyone and the company. Whatever you do, don’t threaten either of them. You know they’re good employees and no matter how annoyed they are at the other, they can see your reality. Unfortunately, this does not mean, they can see their own intransigence.
“At some point in the discussion, you are going to have to level with these two stars: Their behaviour cannot continue. Other people have needs, too. So ask each of them for a suggested solution: How can we get you two to work together in such a way that you do not affect the productivity of others?’ And from here, you are going to have to break trail on your own. Can you find a resolution to their problems? Give it a try.”
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“I would bring the two of them together in what’s called a contract for clearing.’ They each get five minutes to explain what’s going on for them, while the other person sits in silence. After each person finishes the other person can ask questions for clarification only—no statements, or disputing anything. Then each person says how they think they have contributed to their relationship going sideways and what they are willing to do moving forward to correct that behaviour.”
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“In my experience, workplace hostility is often driven by competition or lack of role clarity. I would have frank conversations with both employees separately, and work to clarify their roles and value as a starting point. Honesty is king, so ask them directly: What’s their beef? What do they want? Performance-and behaviour-related conversations ensure clarity around business-appropriate behaviour.”
—Christine Faulhaber, President and CEO, Faulhaber Communications, Toronto
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“Never keep a lid on anything within your company that can negatively impact how your people get along and how they work together. Your staff are the core of your brand community. They are the single most important asset you have. When properly managed and fully engaged, will propel your brand forward and deliver the highest ROI. Get the HR issues out in the open and deal with them before this crap spreads through the whole workplace. You don’t want to be mopping up a big mess when you can clean up a minor spill. If you can’t handle this yourself, in a patient, low-key and good faith way, hire a mediator. Just get on it—fast!”
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- The Deal You Can’t Afford to Do Yourself »
- How to Reward Employees When You Can’t Afford a Bonus »
- When to Fire the First Person You Hired »
Do you have a question you’d like answered? Email us and we’ll put it to the experts. Have any advice to add to this list? Share your thoughts using the comments section below.