Ask the Coach: My employees often come to me to share disagreements or behavior they don’t like about their peers. I feel its negative and distracting and takes up time I could be devoting to other things. What can I do?
Often people do not choose to deal directly with conflict. They may be concerned about how the other person will react, feel it’s not their place, or just don’t feel comfortable addressing the issue. In fact, some people will create a ‘work-around’ just to avoid dealing with someone directly. From a manager’s perspective, it can be time-consuming, frustrating and often unnecessary.
It is damaging, and in fact, toxic to a company to have individuals talking about each other, as opposed to talking to each other about their issues and problems. Make the choice to eliminate this behavior with your team. It will help build a more open and trusting environment, save you time and make it a better place to work. Here are my suggestions on how to do that:
1. Discuss the problem. Be clear with the individual and your entire team about the problem. Specifically, you notice people talking about each other instead of talking directly to the person that they have an issue with. Explain you are wanting to eliminate that behavior because you believe it causes distrust, negativity and is a distraction to the business. After all, who wants to work in an organization where people gossip about each other? If someone’s talking to me about someone else, I believe they would also talk about me – and that doesn’t work for me.
2. Set your expectation. If you have a problem with someone, talk to them first. If you cannot get it resolved, then come tell me and I will coach you or intervene to get it resolved.
3. Confirm understanding. The only way to know if your team understands your expectation is to ask them: what have you heard? If they repeat the above request exactly, then you have understanding. If not, correct it.
4. Deliver on your agreement. The next time someone comes to you with a problem they have with someone else, stop and ask:
a. What did _________ say when you discussed it with her/him? If they say I didn’t, then ask them to go talk to that person within the next 24-48 hours and report back to you how the conversation went. Or, ask them to wait right here and go find the other party and bring them in to have the conversation. Uncomfortable? Yes, but you are modelling what you expect and its unlikely you’ll have to do that more than once or twice.
b. If they did discuss it, acknowledge that behavior and help them if necessary if it is not resolved.
Eliminating gossip and talking about others can be uncomfortable, but it will be a positive change to your culture. It creates openness, builds trust and eliminates work-arounds.
Most importantly, you have the choice and power to stop it. It takes more than one person to participate in gossip so as long as you do your part you will impact the outcome. I can tell you I have worked with many managers that have eliminated this behavior in their teams and it has made a significant difference to the culture in their organization.
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