As if the world isn't nasty enough, there might be nothing more frustrating than dealing with an endless stream of bickering at the office.
It might be two members of your team who seemingly despise each other. It might be a few colleagues who've found themselves in a competitive showdown for a promotion. Or, it may be something worse like a cultural issue that somehow seems to be contagious--infecting even the most mild-mannered and well-intentioned professionals.
We've all witnessed it. We all know what inter-office bickering looks like. And I can assume if you're reading this, you're either living and working in the midst of a vicious squabble, or you're the one person who feels responsible, because you understand that all that toxic bickering will eventually destroy productivity.
At first, this might all sound like I'm being melodramatic or oversensitive.As a leader, you might be questioning whether or not you should even get involved--making the assumption that eventually the dust will settle. However, a study commissioned by CPP Inc. on workplace conflict found that on average, employees in the United State spent 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict.
That might not seem like a big deal until you break it down. The study also revealed:
"For the U.S. alone, that translates to 385 million working days spent every year as a result of conflict in the workplace. In Germany and Ireland, where the average time spent managing conflict rises to 3.3 hours per week, that figure is an even higher proportion of available working time."
Even without the data, you're ready to end the bickering, and might be at a loss as to where to start. The good news is, you're not the first person or company to experience this problem. Here are six ways to mitigate the bickering in your office, and hopefully bring back the peace, as well as improved performance:
1. Promote opportunities to end assumptions.
While a team lunch, a day at the waterpark, or a picnic might not actively increase teamwork, or end an actual feud, these types of gatherings do allow employees to see each other in a different light. Many times office squabbles are simple misunderstandings based on assumptions--we think someone doesn't like us, or is trying to undermine us.
Allow opportunities to really know someone. Most likely, they're not that bad.
2. Spotlight shared values. Repeat.
Corporate or team values often get sent to the breakroom or boardroom walls to slowly, sadly, and silently die miserable deaths. Good leaders and influential employees know how to positively rally people by consistently talking about, and demonstrating shared values.
This might sound like corporate chatter. But companies and teams are typically comprised of people who are passionate about making a similar impact on the world. When you see employees bickering, be subtle and remind them of the bigger commonality you all share.
3. Expose the real "enemy."
I've been told by numerous leaders that their teams are tightest when competing companies or challenges are clearly threatening. Even if your team is crushing it, be sure to remind them consistently about what the real competitors are doing.
Tell them about their new products or services. Share your competitor's awards and successes. Talk about market challenges and hurdles you'll have to overcome as a unified group. Often, when the real dangers in life present themselves, you can finally overlook the petty conflicts.
4. Create dispassionate disagreements.
Nothing is more potent than an employee who is passionate about their work. Nothing is more dangerous and destructive than an employee who is passionately negative about another person at work.
Look for ways to create dispassionate disagreements. You could even have your team take a DISC assessment to show people have different personality styles and communication styles. These types of training can quickly turn former foes into fast friends who can laugh at their differences.
5. Build a culture of appreciation.
It's a win when company leaders understand the impact of employee appreciation. It's even more powerful when the employees are encouraged to appreciate their team members as well.
Design programs that encourage recognition moments between team members. My company has literally studied this, and the numbers we found show that smiles and impact are contagious.
6. Have the tough conversation.
If all of the above fail, it's time to have a tough conversation. It's time to tell the bickering employees that their negativity is impacting the rest of the team and the company's productivity.
Try to come to the conversation with examples of time spent, others complaining, and communication breakdowns. It's not going to be pretty. But it's time.
Employee bickering impacts organizational performance. It does. But, maybe at this point, it's the least of your concerns--simply because you're about to lose your mind.
Try these six strategies and see what happens. The good news is, they're not only great ideas to end bickering, but (except for No. 6) they're also great at building strong cultures.