The complaint “why can’t they just work it out!” is heard in many a manager’s office. Larry was almost grinding his teeth when he was asking for help with two of his employees. “I’ve told each of them, just get over it! And, get back to work!”
“Yet every other day, one of them shows up in my office either complaining or crying about how rude the other person has been. I’m ready to fire them, but they really know what they are doing and it would take a long time to bring someone new up to speed. I’d like to see them succeed and put this conflict behind them. What do you recommend?”
I am frequently faced with these kinds of questions as part of my practice. As always, I started by asking a few questions. The first question was “what are your expectations of these two employees”? His answer was, “Why I expect them to grow up and deal with each other in a respectful way!” My final question: Have you told them what you expect?
The answer of course was no. Rather than expecting our employees to read our minds about what we want from them, it is important to first be clear about what our expectations are. It is then up to us to communicate our expectations to our employees – verbally and in writing.
The question for every manager then is, what do you expect? Remember that all employees need structure, feedback, accountability, and support. How can you provide them with these things? Your clarity about what you expect of them in term of work performance and behavior in the workplace can go a long way to help your employees to “work it out” among themselves. When you communicate that you expect them to be responsible for solving problems when they occur, you are literally helping them to grow and develop professionally.
When you’ve been clear about what and how you expect your employees to behave, then what comes next is to reiterate your expectations and if need be, coach them to work out their conflicts with each other. You are steering them towards each other rather than a way from each other. As you help them to work it out, you are reinforcing your expectations that they can and will resolve conflicts.
By directly providing them structure, feedback, accountability, and support, you are making constructive use of conflicts when they occur. This is a way of creating a culture of engagement.
P.S. When work at home is more the norm it is probably even more important to make sure that employees know what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to work together. Video communication via Zoom, or Free Conference Calls.com can be a good way for employees to develop a mutual understanding of goals and processes. They can give each other feedback and help each other structure their work.
Here’s wishing success to all of you. Stay engaged!