By: Ken Austin
Where personality clashes exist within the workplace, coworkers are almost invariably aware of it. They can read the body language, sense the anger, and are often openly called upon to take sides.
A single conflict between individuals of any level within the organization can have the effect of spreading a negative atmosphere throughout the entire group. Questions of right or wrong and good or bad are soon eclipsed by the issue of ''What do I do now?''
One possible cause of personality clashes is prejudice. Racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination have been with us longer than memory and often precipitate what on the surface appear to be personal differences. Below are 4 ways in which you can directly communicate with your employees to help resolve the problem:
1. Once you have asked the employee their side of the story, ask them to say it again. Do not assume you've understood what the employee has told you. Document each employee's answers, putting such responses in front of them to ensure the list you've created is complete. You may ask them ''Is this everything” or “Is there more?"
2. If the input you gathered about the problem seem anchored in vague generalizations and/or recriminations, you're probably managing a case involving ''oil and water." In these matters, professional mediators or conciliators are the most likely sources for resolving the conflict. Where the employee's input of the situation point to specific job behaviors and/or incidents, you may be able to resolve the matter yourself.
3. Look to the work processes that bring the employees together in ways that spawn disagreement and see how they can be modified. Perhaps the employees themselves can propose process changes that will go a long way toward resolving their own problems. Asking each employee, ''Can you live with this?" and, ''Will this help?" may be the best you can do for now.
4. Be consistent. If you yourself are involved in a personality clash, we suggest you seek outside facilitation as well. This could be accomplished through an EAP, a human resources professional, a professional mediator, or a more senior manager.