Reining in the office’s disruptive duo
Stopping a feud between two co-workers
Q: Two of my employees have an ongoing feud that creates an unpleasant environment in our office. “Cheryl” and “Doug” work in adjoining cubicles and find each other very irritating.
Cheryl gives Doug unsolicited advice about handling customer calls and makes snarky remarks during his conversations with coworkers. Doug is fed up with Cheryl’s continual commentary, so he has now stopped speaking to her. He just acts as though she doesn’t exist. How do I get these childish people to grow up?
A: One strategy for resolving coworker squabbles might be described as “together-separate together.” Start by having a joint meeting with your disruptive duo to stress the seriousness of the problem and establish clear expectations. Your objective is not to resolve the issue, but to set the stage for the next step.
For example: “The two of you are apparently unable to work together in a professional manner. Because this can’t continue, we have to make some changes. Regardless of how you feel about each other, you are expected to be consistently pleasant and cooperative at work. After I meet with you separately to set some goals, we will get back together and agree on a plan.” Then end the meeting without further discussion.
In the individual sessions, you should address each person’s contribution to the problem. Since Cheryl appears to be the instigator, talk with her first and firmly explain that Doug’s conversations are none of her business. She must focus on her own work and stop making unwelcome and unnecessary remarks.
In Doug’s case, the issue is his equally immature reaction to Cheryl’s annoying behavior. He needs to understand that passiveaggressive retaliation is simply unacceptable. When a colleague is being intentionally irritating, he should either ask that person to stop or discuss the issue with you.
As a final step, bring Cheryl and Doug back together, reiterate your expectations and have them summarize what they will do differently in the future. Thank them for their cooperation and then schedule a follow-up meeting to assess progress.
If they end their feud, express appreciation. But if they begin to backslide, you must immediately remind them of their agreements.
Q: I have a routine job in which the duties seldom change. My position isn’t very demanding, but that’s just fine with me. While I want to do my current work well, I have no desire to move up or get ahead.
Unfortunately, our new manager believes that everyone should be interested in advancement. He is planning to meet with each of us soon to discuss our career goals. Since I don’t really have any goals, what should I say?
A: Having been promoted themselves, managers often assume that everyone shares their motivation. However, many highly competent folks are more focused on other things. Some want to continue doing tasks they enjoy, while others are energized by activities outside of work. But since your new boss is all about career, don’t highlight your lack of interest in moving up. Instead, focus on objectives that could help with your current job. For example, you might expand your knowledge of the business or acquire new technical skills. After all, ongoing learning is always an important career goal.
Workplace coach Marg McIntyre tackles the issue of how to handle feuding co-workers.