Of the several things you do as a manager, perhaps the most important and difficult task is inter-personnel management. When two employees are equally productive and valuable to the company but are at loggerheads with each other, it is indeed a tough situation to manage.
A fine balance is important to ensure that none is offended, you can retain both of them and there is a healthy working environment all around.
Hostility between two employees brings down their own productivity while also disturbing others working around them.
Once you notice such a situation developing gradually (it doesn’t happen overnight), take immediate action. Don’t let the situation linger on until you are left with no other option but to sack both of them.
This helps nobody and the company will be the biggest loser.
Understand the Root of the Acrimony
Often, fear is at the root of regular altercations and the situation can become unmanageable if left unaddressed. The corporate world is highly competitive and everybody is trying to climb up the ladder, especially people who are ambitious and deservingly qualified.
In many cases, such an employee is fearful of the fact that the co-worker will outshine or be a serious competitor.
Such fear fosters deliberate non-cooperation until both of them are trying to pull each other down. Sit with them, assure them about their value to the company, explain their individual roles clearly and give them confidence.
Avoid Personal Issues
Each individual is different and sometimes people just dislike each other because of their own personal prejudices. There is no logical reason; they just don’t like a certain type of person. If you detect something similar, it’s best to take a firm approach.
Explain that there’s no place for prejudices and personal likes and dislikes in the professional world and that their performance is the sole criteria for assessing them.
Get all your Facts and Figures First
Before you sit with the two sparring employees, get all your information right.
Find out how, when and under what circumstances the acrimony began.
Understand their response to the situation i.e. who started the disagreement and why. Often you will find the person who started disagreeing was actually right while the other person was just unwilling to accept it in a professional manner.
Often it’s petty issues that can be resolved easily. For example, if someone is speaking over the phone continuously or humming to themselves while working or is a loudmouth, it can disturb the person working next to him/her.
Speak to Witnesses
Before you sit with the two co-workers who are not on talking terms, speak to some witnesses discretely.
The more people you speak to, the clearer the situation will become.
Witnesses who were actually present when the dispute started brewing can add more details to the cause of the dispute. With their help and information, you can prepare a comprehensive report containing every minor detail.
This will be of tremendous help when you sit down to resolve the issues between two employees who hate each other.
Keep Your Personal Bias at Bay
It can be quite natural that of the two people you are speaking to, you like one of them better than the other.
This can be because of their performance, attitude, professionalism or any other reasons.
However, when mediating a dispute, don’t let your personal bias influence the situation. Consider each person’s strengths and weaknesses, failures and successes, attitude and approach equally.
Never try to bully people into submission when they are not cooperating with each other.
It will only lead to frustration, which they are sure to take out on each other. This will further exacerbate the situation instead of resolving it. Be empathetic to both of them and try to understand the reason behind their actions and reactions.
Often the underlying cause may be completely different from what you had expected. Perhaps one of them is simply frustrated with his current job profile. Perhaps he did not get the much-deserved promotion or pay raise! Maybe they believe that they are not receiving enough importance or are being overlooked for serious assignments.
In such situations, venting out their frustration on their co-workers in perhaps the only way for them.
Give Both the Employees an Equal Opportunity to Present their Case
While mediating, give both employees an equal opportunity to explain their point of view. Don’t rush through the mediation process. Schedule a meeting and keep yourself free as such meetings can go on and on until you find a solution.
Be patient and judge each issue on its own merit.
Do not let a particular person divert issues or interlink them so as to influence your decision. Be specific and if required, be firm. If you need to draw the line for a particularly obstinate employee, go ahead and do it.
Offer Alternative Solutions and Perspectives
Offer alternate perspectives, newer opportunities and issue-based solutions. Most people have a tunnel vision and cannot see things that they don’t want to see or accept. Offering new perspectives to a particular situation can open their mind to alternative solutions that are acceptable to both of them.
Provide them with opportunities and assignments where they can collaborate and share the success instead of competing against each other. Try to imbibe a team spirit wherein each is helping the other achieve the ultimate goal of keeping the company on the right path.
Motivate and Support
During mediation, offer motivating tips and try to give both of the employees as much support as you can. This creates a positive feeling which can go a long way in ironing out the differences between them. ,
The daily drudgery of humdrum office life or doing the same work for months on end can make people irritable. Motivate them to exceed expectations, taste success and assure them of the company’s support at all time.
Trying to resolve issues is always preferable instead of avoiding it until a valuable employee leaves or you have to sack him/her.