You don’t have to referee every day–just stop the fighting.
There are few workplaces without at least some minor conflicts and irritations. Those are part of most relationships, working or otherwise, and are usually tolerated well enough that they don’t effect work or the quality of work life. However, some workplaces have ongoing, simmering feuds, daily vengeful actions and verbal warfare that makes work miserable for everyone.
Fighting between employees hurts morale, lowers the quality of work, takes the focus off customers and clients and indicates poor management, supervision and leadership. The biggest negative result is that work stops being fun and starts being a daily verbal and mental brawl. If you are a supervisor or manager, your responsibility is to stop fighting quickly and completely. If you are a coworker, you should show your displeasure, never support fighting and ask for help to get it stopped.
What takes a temporary disagreement or conflict to the level of a fight? Consider the boxing jargon that fits many situations: Frequent and unpleasant verbal sparring, hitting below the belt, sucker punches, blind-siding, bum’s rush, body-slam, gut punch, low blow, jab, pulling no punches. Listen for frequent angry comments and complaining, sniping, insults, mocking and all of the behavior that fits bullying. The difference is that in fights both sides usually keep it going.
How to stop fighting:
1. Don’t let it get started and stop it the moment you see a fight developing. You may need to work on something that is ongoing now, but while you’re doing that, don’t let anything else get started. “Gina, I can tell you’re upset and I can understand why. But, we’re not going to have an ongoing fight in the office, so let’s get this thing between you and Lisa out in the open and work on it.” “Kyle, you spent the meeting taking jabs at Ron. Don’t do that again.” “I heard the snippy remarks you made to Linda over the phone. That’s not the way we deal with disagreements here. So, tell me what happened with that conversation.”
2. Find out the root cause and make some judgments. Yes, I know that goes against everything you were taught in the class on conflict resolution. But, the truth is that sometimes one person is wrong and the other is at least less wrong–or even completely right. Bullies rely on having managers take the “You’re both in the right and you’re both in the wrong” approach. Have the courage to say, “You treated her rudely. Stop it right now and don’t ever do it again.” (Yaaaaaaay for the people who have put up with that rude person for years!) Good judgment is a trait we admire in people–have the courage to show it yourself.
3. Don’t contribute to fighting in an effort to be supportive. If you can help solve a problem, do it and move on. Don’t have a role in keeping it going by encouraging an escalation of comments and actions or by shrugging and figuring they’re adults and they’ll work it out. If they could or if they wanted to, they would have by now.
4. Start a Peace Rally in the office. Do not let another unit, section, team or group become identified as the Evil Empire that must be resisted and hated. Talk about individuals rather than the whole group. Mention anything positive that is done by the other group. Take action about the things that are problematic, if you have that authority. But, if you don’t have the authority, accept that life will be more pleasant if everyone can get over being so sensitized about the group they perceive as the enemy. If it’s tolerable, tolerate it. If it’s intolerable, make a decision about it.
Are there people in your workplace who you wish would get along better? The fact that you are aware of their dislike is reason enough for them to stop whatever they’re doing that makes it so obvious. (And, I’ll bet when you think about it, one person does more than the other. Be honest about it and don’t put the blame on both of them equally.)
5. Be the one who lets your entire workplace be saved by the bell. Even if you are not a manager, you can start the process of having managers and supervisors intervene. You can do more than you think you can. If you are a manager, do what it takes to stop fighting and get the fighters focused on something else. One thing is for sure: If anyone is going to throw in the towel, it shouldn’t be you. Stick with your efforts until work becomes a safe and pleasant place to be.