You thought you had a smoothly-functioning team – but now a personal dispute between two staff members is threatening your team’s stability and creating unpleasantness for people around them. What can you do when two people on your team don’t get along?
Before you intervene in any personal dispute between staff members, it’s key to determine the answer to these two questions: How is it impacting the work? And how is it impacting the work environment, both for the people involved and for others around them? You want to stay focused on these questions because whether or not two employees like each other isn’t really your business. You don’t need your staff to be best friends, and it’s fine if people aren’t huge personal fans of each other. But you do need them to work together productively, to be pleasant and professional, and not to create a tense or unpleasant work environment. And that’s where your feedback should be focused – not on their personal feelings toward each other.
It’s entirely reasonable to tell people involved in a coworker dispute that you expect them to behave pleasantly and professionally at work, regardless of their personal feelings for each other, and that part of their jobs is to deal with their coworkers civilly. You should then hold them to that just like you would any other performance expectation.
That said, handling these situations fairly doesn’t require treating both employees exactly the same. If it’s clear to you that one person is in the wrong – or significantly more in the wrong than the other – your discussions with each of them should reflect that. For instance, if you have a situation where one employee is being hostile to another, you should give the instigator the “I expect you to behave pleasantly and professionally” talk above. And then you might meet with the target of the hostility to say something like, “I’ve made it clear to Jane that she needs to treat you pleasantly and professionally. Please let me know if you continue to have problems.”
Additionally, personal disputes should be a rarity. You want to build a team where it’s widely understood that personal conflicts are out of sync with your culture, and where people handle disagreements kindly and professionally. You can do that by modeling that behavior yourself, by talking explicitly about how you expect team members to relate to each others, and by calling it out quickly when you see behavior that doesn’t match up with what you want.