Jul 25

When Employees Hate Each Other: 6 Tips for Resolving Coworker Conflict

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conflict-financial people talkingLet’s face it, as much as we want people to “play nice” at work, we will have conflicts. How we handle those conflicts is the key to good leadership and management.

When two employees hate each other, their animosity can turn a healthy working environment into a toxic space.

Coworker conflict will always come up; you can’t be everyone’s best friend. In reality, conflict is healthy, when it’s er healthy.  However, we need to be civil and able to work together. The longer the dislike between employees endures, the more it’s likely to hurt their productivity and that of those around them. Eventually, it needs to change and be remedied.

If the conflict is among hourly workers, you might choose to ignore the spat, or perhaps discipline the employees if it has affects their performance. You may even just let one or both go to avoid the drama. However, when the feud is between professional staff, the situation becomes more complicated. And, when the conflict is between peers who are vying for an upcoming vacancy due to executive succession planning, emotions and ambitions can get the best of anyone.

Hopefully you proactively screen out candidates with behavioral issues using pre-hire assessments. But, dislike among workers can stem from any number of work- or non-work-related issues. Perhaps they’re from different social circles or have differing backgrounds; it could be the way they do (or don’t do) their work; or something trivial such as the sound of their voice or malodorous lunch they eat in the other’s vicinity. Whatever the reason, it is in everyone’s best interest to address and resolve the matter before it becomes toxic in the office.

Outcomes of Coworker Conflict

Once you’re made aware of your employees not getting along, there are six possible outcomes of resolving conflict among coworkers:

  • Both parties work out their differences, rise above, and move on.
  • Each party agrees to disagree, but get past it and move on.
  • Both parties say they’ve moved on, but one or both secretly harbors continued ill will. Negativity lurks and performance soon begins to dip.
  • One party sucks it up and acquiesces while the other seemingly “wins.” Conflict could continue.
  • The “wrong” party won’t budge and needs removal from the department and possibly let go.
  • The situation damages both workers and both leave.

You may know people in your personal or professional lives who always seem to be part of drama and have a knack for dragging others into their issues. If you think, “Here we go again” regarding one of the employees that is part of the conflict, then that’s probably a sign that the person needs to change their attitude or lose their job.

Some would argue that creative tension among peers and coworkers can yield superior results due to the competition and rivalry that they form. While this might be true on a project basis, it can easily establish a permanent us-versus-them culture that devolves into conflict.

Here’s another thought: if you allow coworker conflict to linger without addressing it, one of the workers (or both, or an uninvolved third worker) could go around you to your boss or to HR, making an uncomfortable situation much worse. The implications will be clear: “This was brought to the manager’s attention, and he either chose to ignore it or didn’t know how to deal with it. He’s incompetent.” This could backfire on them, but the damage to your reputation and unwanted scrutiny on your group will be done.

Six Tips for Resolving and Avoiding Coworker Conflict

What can you do to resolve coworker conflict? Each situation will be different, but here are some ways to deal with and avoid future feuding employees:

    1. Meet with the feuding coworkers to see if you can remedy the situation. Do this quickly to avoid letting it fester and spiral out of control.
    2. Alert your boss to the situation so that they’re not blindsided by any necessary disciplinary actions now or in the future.
    3. Involve HR as necessary, which could be as an independent mediator, to put difficult employees on notice or probation, or to begin the process of transferring the troublemakers to another department or location.
    4. Advocate an environment of respect, tolerance, and civility in the office.
    5. Maintain an open dialogue with your employees. Freely sharing information and updates on the company and department will quell the need for gossip and rumors.
    6. Review your policies on use of company email and social media sites. Some disgruntled employees will take their rants online either within or outside of the company. Know your company’s electronic media policies and communicate them with all employees.

To learn more about turning destructive conflict into productive conflict, contact Tom Johnson, Senior Leadership Consultant, 513-272-2451, [email protected]