OWNER'S MANUAL

How to Settle Employee Squabbles

The last thing you want to do is seem like you're taking sides. Here's how to handle interpersonal problems more gracefully.
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Dear Jeff,

One of my employees complained about how another employee treats him.  He said the other employee makes snide remarks, rolls his eyes when he's speaking, talks behind his back... I spoke to the other employee and he denied it. He said, "I don't know what his problem is. He thinks everyone hates him." What do I do now?  Name withheld by request.

Sorting out interpersonal issues is never easy. Even when you do, it can still appear you took sides—at the very least to the employee who "lost."

The key is to stick to facts. Talk to both employees, separately or together, but only talk about facts: Words, actions, behaviors, and outcomes. Sticking to facts helps you avoid entering the "feelings zone," a black hole you'll struggle to escape from.

Don't get me wrong: Feelings are of course important, but what you really need to know are what actions, if any, caused those feelings. That means you'll need to direct the conversation and avoid discussion like, "I know he thinks..." or "I know he assumes..." or "I know he doesn't like me..."

For example, if an employee says, "I know he doesn't respect me..." interrupt (nicely) and say, "Let's talk about that. Why do you feel he doesn't respect you? What has he said or done to make you feel that way?"

By focusing on facts you can find out what really happened. More importantly you can help employees focus on behaviors that can be changed.

Employee emotions are largely outside your control, but employee behaviors definitely fall within your scope.

So find out exactly what was said and done, determine whether those things were appropriate, and then clearly state what you expect in the future. And then keep a close eye on the situation and make sure your door is always open.

And definitely never say something to the effect of, "Look, grow up. You don't have to like each other. You just need to do your jobs."

While that may be what you would love to say, you can't. To at least one employee the problem is very real.

And remember that while you may not fully solve an interpersonal squabble, most employees respond positively to the fact you tried.

Have a question? Email questions@blackbirdinc.com and it may appear in a future column. Please indicate if you would like your name and/or company name to appear.

Last updated: Mar 20, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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