It’s a fortunate leader/manager who has a team with folks who have the personal growth and professional maturity to adapt their own behavior and personality types to be valuable, participating parts of the team. In a working team of people any number of personalities will be present, and those people may react to things in as many different ways. A person’s perception is shaped by learning, memory, expectation, experiences and motivation. These “perceptual sets” can greatly influence the atmosphere of a working group. It is absolutely imperative for a leader to understand attitudes and emotional intelligence of the people who work for him.
A manager can give six people the same set of instructions, in the same tone of voice, at the same time and one of those six people can feel they have been insulted. Let’s say for some reason this one person has had some previous experience that is triggered; or perhaps for whatever reason the manager has had to bring some correction to that worker in the past. The relevant point is that they actually felt as though there was some offense to be taken. It doesn’t matter whether the person giving the instructions meant to give offense or insult. It was taken that way. A good leader/manager who recognizes that this has happened will address that issue as quickly as possible. He cannot afford to let that go, or wait it out, or see if it will pass.
A disgruntled employee can poison the entire atmosphere of a working group. It’s not just that employee alone who suffers with the feelings of anger, resentment, discontent and dissatisfaction. The disposition of that employee affects “the office.” Especially if that employee is the type to allow those feelings to color their outer behavior, which unfortunately happens more times than we’d like to believe. It rarely works itself out. A leader has to deal with it.
Many times co-workers become at odds with one another. A miscommunication or misunderstanding can occur between any two people. Mature, working professionals usually deal with these type issues between themselves, but sometimes a mediator is needed to smooth out that misunderstanding. A leader is often needed to affect the resumption of a congenial environment for the sake of the job that has to be done. It’s a leader’s task to take some action to restore a congenial and productive atmosphere.
So what do we do? Be Direct. Listen. Act.
Call that person aside. Ask them frank, open-ended questions and let them talk. Let them vent. Give them an opportunity to get if off their chest. You may not agree with their reactions or even understand their feelings, however, its your job to listen. Listen and try to “hear” what they are saying. Stay positive. If you can be the one to clear up any miscommunication, do it. If the situation requires that you talk to another person involved in the situation, do that as well.
In the instance where there is another person whom your disgruntled employee feels is the cause of their current attitude, you should talk to that person too – separate and apart from the first person. Now. Give yourself some time to evaluate what you’ve heard and observed. And, most of all, as well as you possibly can, take into consideration the “perceptions” of these employees. You may decide to have them both meet with you together at this point. You may not. If you do decide to have them both together remember, this is not the Jerry Springer show. You are not there to host any shouting match or aggressive behavior.
Follow-up and Finish
Once you are satisfied that you understand the situation as best you can you must make a demand on all parties. I know that sounds harsh, but as a leader you must be decisive and succinct on what is expected. You are not only dealing with the situation at hand, but you are also setting a model and precedence for your entire team. Those team members who are not involved will be spared and gratefully relieved knowing that the negative aire around them will quickly be cleared.
The follow-up is a second meeting with each person involved where you let them know that, while you may not agree with their take on the problem/situation, you understand what they’ve said. Let them know that you have spoken or will speak with everyone involved. Now the finish – tell everyone involved what has to happen going forward. THIS IS WHERE YOU GIVE THEM A KINDER, GENTLER, BUT JUST AS STERN BARNEY FIFE…and let them know that they will NIP IT. NIP IT IN THE BUD.
We must move on. We have a job to do. Your expectation is for mature, professionals to do their jobs excellently without emotional issues or grade-school antics. You don’t expect to see any further outward appearance of animosity. This is a requirement of their position and employment.
Best case scenario is that the workers involved will apologize to one another for the brief break in their working relationship. No one has to take “blame.” One can always tell another that it wasn’t “their intention” to frustrate, disrespect or insult. Worst case scenario, things escalate until everyone around them is walking on eggshells and picking sides. Not good.
If you have never been in an office where this sort of thing has occurred, you’re in great shape. It is not pleasant. We spend eight or more hours a day in the workplace. It’s awesome when people work well together without drama. It’s unpleasant, counterproductive and invidious when strife rears its ugly head and is allowed to continue.
There are loads of websites, seminars, books, etc., with advice on dealing with these type difficult issues. Most, like I hope this one is, are very helpful, but the truth is it’s not easy to deal with these situations. Not everyone is naturally equipped to confront and/or handle people’s different temperaments. However, if you’re in a position of leadership keep learning, honing your people skills and prepare yourself to be successful in this area. It’s bound to happen at some point in your career.
Leaders facilitate, influence and encourage a great working environment. That’s part of what the big bucks are for.