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How to Manage Difficult Employees Who Just Can't Get Along

by Ralph Heibutzki

Feuding employees are one of a manager's worst nightmares. When two or more co-workers start battling, it doesn't take long before the negativity ripples through the organization. You can't make the warring parties like one another, but as their employer, you define what behavior is acceptable. That means giving those employees a choice between toning down personal dramas or taking them somewhere else.

Build Your Case

Investigation is the first step in addressing workplace conflict. Co-workers often hesitate to speak up, so plan on taking the lead yourself, "Entrepreneur" magazine states. You'll need to watch how difficult employees treat each other, customers and vendors. One-on-one chats with other staff members are important, as well as an analysis of any complaints that your office has received. Once you've established the relevant facts, you can devise a potential solution.

Call a Meeting

When you're ready, schedule a closed door session. Review the facts, get each worker's response, but explain why the behavior can't continue, "Minneapolis Star-Tribune" career columnist Liz Reyer advises. For example, if the conflict is making it harder to meet deadlines, you might say, "Other team members feel uncomfortable picking up your work. Is that appropriate?" Let the participants know they must comply if they expect to keep their jobs.

Encourage Employee Involvement

Employees often want managers to spell everything out. Instead, asking them how they'd go about solving the problem will provide common ground for restoring their working relationship, "CIO Update" magazine states. However, this approach may not work on workers who seem strongly emotional or hostile. In that situation, you have to discuss work habits that need improvement right away. Otherwise, it's best to work out a timeline for changing their behavior.

Follow Up Periodically

Constant check-ins prevent old habits from resurfacing. Speak regularly with each employee who's been in conflict, which defuses the opportunity for new tensions to surface, Reyer suggests. If feelings continue to run high, keep the employees apart for awhile by putting them to work on separate projects. You can always make that separation permanent as a last resort. Otherwise, look at hiring outside coaches or mentors who can reinforce your solution.

Other Considerations

When conflict reaches an impasse, you must let one or both employees go for the sake of morale. Your decision becomes easier if a worker resists any notions of changing his behavior, Reyer says. The same rule applies to a hostile employee who seems less skilled than his counterpart. If both parties are equally at fault and keeping either one will create further problems, that's a good reason to replace both of them.

About the Author

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