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Can’t Stand Working With That Jerk

As a managewhich, one of the more frustrating challenges is dealing with people who do not play nicely together in the sandbox.   Most of managewhich’s deal with it in one of three very ineffective ways:

  • Ignore it, and hope it goes away.
  • Do their best to separate them, so that there is minimal disruption to the team and the work product, and then we have to all ignore the hostility elephant in the room.
  • Tell them both to work it out amongst themselves and then leave them to duke it out (I think that was some misguided empowerment thing that showed up in the 90′s).

Managewhich, ignoring it never works, because at best what you end up with is a dysfunctional team in which people tiptoe around, act as go betweens, and expend energy (perhaps unconscious energy) trying to deal with the personalities in the room.   The more likely scenario is that the relationship becomes unsalvageable, and you run the risk of a valuable asset leaving the group or company or even sabotage to the project.   Nothing like watching one’s despised colleague fall on their face, right?

Separating them creates islands.  Us against them.  Us against Jack Burro.  And, it makes work for you and your team.  You, in the keeping the fighters in their opposite corner, and your team, in that now they have to navigate between the two.

Managewhich, do not make the mistake of letting them sort it out themselves once they’ve given it a try, because if they had the behavioral skills and emotional intelligence to do it themselves, they already would have.  No one, except a real Jack Burro, wants to continually work in this kind of environment, and if you have a Jack Burro on your staff, you’ve violated the no Jack Burro rule which is a topic for a different day.

So, make the request once for them to discuss their working relationship.  Then, debrief with each of them individually to find out whether they did what you asked and whether it worked, from their points of view.  And observe, because people will lie to you if they don’t want to deal with this.

After that, if the climate doesn’t get warmer, it’s time to put on your coaching hat and facilitate them through this.

And, this is where many a managewhich says, “Uh-oh,” because if they had the tools to do this, they too would have already done it.  And so, they go back into ignore with the rationalization that “It won’t work anyway.”  If this sounds like you, maybe it’s time to call in a professional.  What I find is that when addressed correctly and in time most of these relationships are not only salvageable, they can become whole.   Trust me, fixing this will lift a burden from your shoulders.  The dividend is worth the investment.

Be Your Best You Today,

Carolann Jacobs

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