Whether it’s a small advisory office or any department of a large financial services firm, when team members working together don’t get along it can be disruptive for everyone. Sometimes a colleague may rise up to play the mediator role, trying to get the two to see “eye to eye” on things, but in most cases it is up to the disruptive individuals to decide they want to make a shift.
If you are working around people who are in conflict, whether overt or covert, it can prove difficult to focus on your own work. Worrying, watching and wondering what’s going to happen next become the norm. If you are working in an environment like this, what steps can you take to minimize the impact?
- First and foremost, don’t get involved and don’t pick sides. People who are sparring with one another want to develop their “bench,” their cast of cheerleaders who see their side and support them. This can be dangerous territory, because you are choosing one colleague over another when you do this. Stay aware and refuse to side with either party. Stay neutral.
- Gently – or aggressively – point out the impact they are having on the rest of the team. Identify specific issues that are occurring, such as a project that is stalled, a client who did not get a return call, etc., that could be arising because of the conflict. One advisory firm had a support person and an operations person at odds, and client messages got “lost” and were not returned as a result. Find the damage and highlight it to the people involved, or the leader of the firm if possible.
- Listen to both sides, but give feedback about the other person’s viewpoint. While you don’t want to pick a side, it can be helpful to listen and try to understand what’s underneath the angst. It could be just a fundamental personality difference, or it could be a misunderstanding. Sometimes you can reframe the experience and help each person see the other’s perspective.
- Refuse to take the conflict inside, or home with you. Be careful about internalizing what’s going on. Don’t let the unrest make you personally upset, or impact your home life. Work to create an imaginary Plexiglas box around you, and watch the people in conflict outside of it! Be an observer, not a participator in their difficulties.
- Recognize that this is their issue and while it may impact other colleagues, you are probably greater in numbers than they are. Rally the rest of the team to become more solidified and supportive of each other, and even of these colleagues. It’s amazing how one or two people can disrupt the entire team – band together and refuse to allow them to do so.
It can be a distressing experience when colleagues are in conflict, but remember you can maintain your personal power in the midst of it.
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