When two (or more) team members aren’t getting along, it can create distractions, lower productivity, and make it hard for people to get things done. Managers sometimes aren’t sure what their role, if any, should be in solving conflicts other people are having, especially if the conflict feels more personal than work-related. But if it’s impacting your team, you need to step in. Here’s how to do it.
Get a better understanding of what the conflict is about. Some conflicts are just personality conflicts or personal dislike, but some are rooted in legitimate issues. For example, it’s possible that Jane and Bob simply don’t like each other, but it’s also possible that Jane is frustrated because Bob isn’t pulling his weight or keeps missing deadlines that impact her work, or that Bob sees that Jane’s poor customer service is undermining the whole team. To complicate matters further, Bob might be right about Jane’s poor customer service, but maybe he’s making the problem worse by criticizing her work to clients or just treating her rudely – which would put him in the wrong as well.
What you don’t want to do is to assume that it’s just a personality conflict that both people are equally responsible for (a common mistake managers make). Take the time to ask each person about what’s going on and listen with an open mind so that you really understand the source of the frustration.
Do encourage the employees to work it out themselves if possible – but know that this won’t always be appropriate. If it’s truly just a personality conflict, it’s reasonable to expect professionals to resolve that on their own (although they may need a nudge from you telling them that they need to knock it off). But not all conflicts will be solvable without your intervention. If the root of the issue is a slacking team member who’s making more work for everyone else, that will require you stepping in and dealing with that team member – that’s not something that other people will have the authority to do on their own. Other times, people just may not have the skills to resolve interpersonal conflict on their own. So …
Be willing to step in to resolve the issue yourself. If you do this, talk to each individually and make a judgment call about whether it would be helpful to meet with both people at the same time. Managers sometimes default to assuming that meeting with both people at once is the fastest way to resolve a problem, but that’s not always effective and sometimes can even make things worse. For instance, if one of the employees is shy and unassertive, or particularly intimidated by the other person, she may not be comfortable speaking freely in a group meeting. And if the other person is particularly vocal and assertive, it can leave the less outspoken person feeling at a disadvantage. Or, in the example above about a slacking team member, a group meeting wouldn’t make sense; you’d need to address it with the person who’s causing the issue.
Don’t tolerate unkind, uncivil, or unprofessional behavior. No matter what, make it clear that team members need to treat each other with respect. They don’t have to love working with each other, and they can legitimately dislike actions someone else takes, but they do need to treat each other pleasantly and professionally. That’s just a basic work obligation and you should quickly call it out if someone isn’t meeting that bar.