Addressing Negative Staff Interactions

How do I advise a supervisor who is at his wits end with two staff members who simply cannot get along?

Thank you for the question. I am going to take a little creative license here and add to the scenario. Let's say that the interactions are often charged, accusations or innuendos are subliminal, trust is weak, and actions are often perceived as personal.

I recommend that you start by first asking the supervisor what he or she has done to date to address the problem. Has he identified their strengths, assigned work to build on those strengths, ensured equity in training opportunities, rewarded accomplishments?  I have worked with supervisors over the years and am remembering one incident in particular where a supervisor felt he had done everything by the book but lamented that "they are not changing their behaviors." 

In many of these situations, I saw a supervisor who had unwittingly, unknowingly, or maybe even very consciously, made it his responsibility to ensure his staff members got along. The monkey was in his or her tree, and frankly, other than shaking a few branches now and then, this had not  made much of a difference at all. It was time to put the monkeys in the employee's tree. 

Here is a 5 point statement to help shake the monkeys from the supervisor's tree.

  • You are each very capable individuals in your own right.
  • Your interactions at (fill in the blank) were not appropriate.
  • Your interactions are not only impacting your performance but also the rest of the team.
  • I am no longer going to manage, accept, facilitate, tolerate (enter word of choice) this.
  • I expect you to work together and I am holding each of you accountable for doing so. 

The biggest hurdle to putting this out there in one way or another? The supervisor. One could say it is the supervisor's willingness or ability to put the monkeys were they belong. I would challenge that  more often than not, a supervisor may not even be aware that they have made this their responsibility. If you see that, bring it to their attention and you will have opened the door to whole new conversation.