You're a leader, not a babysitter.
We spend at least 35 percent of our lives at work. Eight hours a day, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. And that's the minimum. Factor in business travel, late-nights at the office, and work events on evenings and weekends, and it's no wonder why many of us see our colleagues more than our families.
Whenever you spend that much time with a group of people, conflict is naturally going to arise. As a leader, it's your job to be the eyes and ears of the company, intuitively picking up on any tension and cueing into issues that are disrupting the culture.
At the first sign of an argument, your first instinct may be to step-in and nip it in the bud. Well don't. If you get involved every time there's the smallest amount of tension, you'll become the office parent rather than a pillar of inspiration. Your job is to be a leader, not a babysitter.
You want your employees to be self-sufficient. That's why you should encourage them to work it out themselves before getting management involved. Give them some credit, they're professionals (and adults), after all.
However, sometimes an issue between employees can linger far longer than just clashing opinions in the meeting room. So how do you know when it's time to intervene, and when it's time to butt out?
The next time an office argument, drama, or gossip surfaces, ask yourself these three questions before you decide to step-in:
1. How severe are the circumstances?
Determine the degree of the conflict. A few passive aggressive comments in an email versus a yelling match in the lunch room are obviously on very different sides of the scale. However, it doesn't take a major blow-out to make the situation important enough to get involved.
Don't brush off comments that could be damaging to a person's credibility and reputation. Not everyone is strong enough to speak up if they're feeling bullied. If you notice a pattern, then it's time to step-up and step-in.
Once you've assessed the issue, talk to each employee individually and let them know you're aware of the situation. First encourage open communication and resolution amongst on another. Ask if they feel comfortable handling it one-on-one. If not, then you can become involved.
2. How long has this been going on?
How long have these two employees exchanged sly comments, snickering, or eye rolling? Days? Weeks? Months?
There's truth behind the idea of 'picking your battles'. Just because a few people disagreed on a campaign slogan doesn't mean they need hours of attention with a mediator. Some things really can be squashed with time. Don't forget, innovation and growth typically occur when staff challenge one another.
On the other hand, the longer these types of negative exchanges occur, the more it erodes on the relationship. Every gesture, email, or passing in the hallway becomes loaded with negativity. If this is the case, intervene immediately.
3. How many people are involved?
It doesn't take long before employees take sides, pick teams, and rally against one another. In other words, every leader's nightmare.
Even if you're not fully immersed in what's going on, you can bet any tension will be felt amongst the entire organization. If you've noticed it, so has everyone else.
At the end of the day, you've hired people to work and perform. If employee conflicts are disrupting the team dynamics, it's an issue for management.
Don't count on a group of people to self-govern and squash their differences. This type of situation definitely calls for your attention and your leadership.