Tension in the office is often kept under the surface--most executives are polished people who know better than to explode and stomp around when they're upset. Instead, they keep their bubbling frustrations and anger inside. Of course, it comes out in dozens of other passive aggressive ways--being late to meetings, inaction, gossip, and general undermining of the person or group they have an issue with. Left unchecked, this tension can make for an unpleasant work environment and can cause real organizational issues.
Unresolved tension in any setting is counterproductive. It can linger for years--often until someone leaves. Tension, distrust, and spite stick around so long because we're reluctant to deal with the problem head on. And even if we wanted to, most lack the skills to do so productively.
Most people have an issue with someone--or a group--in the office, and most people are somebody's issue in the office. I'm certain that even you are someone else's issue--as perfect as you are.
We generally keep these tensions below the surface because we want to appear more professional and level-headed. We don't deal with conflict when it happens because we're afraid it will damage how we're perceived and and even that it could have real negative impacts on our careers.
But this subsurface tension is crushing our collective productivity. That's why you need to take the initiative to deal with yours. Not only do we spend tons of time in our own heads arguing with someone, advocating for our position, and strategizing how to work around them--we can drag others down with us.
More than organizational issues, more than technology, more than business strategy--malfunctioning relationships in the office are holding us back. Before you attempt another reorganization or buy another communication tool, consider dealing with the issues around the conference table.
If you're in charge, this process is straightforward and it starts with you. The trick is that you need to confront the problem without intimidating, belittling, or threatening the person you have an issue with. This takes skill and often a little coaching--to navigate without causing additional issues.
If you're one of the team, it also starts with you. You can demonstrate leadership and a commitment to the organization by skillfully addressing the problem. Demonstrating an earnest desire to make things better--including doing your part to address your own problematic behaviors--will not only make the team more effective, it will elevate you in the eyes of others. You become a problem-solver on top of all of the other great skills you bring to the table.
If you know there is tension but you're reluctant to bring it up and deal with it, remember this: It always comes out. The choice you're making is to deal with it now (and retain some control over the situation) or let an external event bring it all up for you, often in a dramatic outburst. From firsthand experience, I can assure you that the former is highly preferable. Dealing with interpersonal tension amidst a crisis is a terrible combination that almost always results in one or more people exiting the organization. Things just fall apart for the leadership team and all of the supporting staff. Your company's image suffers, clients are neglected, and staff are left wondering what's going to happen next--so they start looking for other jobs.
Dealing head-on with the issues you know are there might produce a little short-term discomfort, but it has a huge upside. Afterward, you'll be a more resilient team that can weather whatever challenges business and life throw at you.