Living in a house with an insecure dog and two confident cats creates lots of opportunities for disruptive behavior. Grace is fiercely jealous of the kitties, Dodger in particular, who seems to find immense pleasure in her discomfort. Oliver moves around oblivious to Grace, unless a carrot is in the room, because for whatever the reason, they both love carrots.
Dodger definitely instigates situations that he knows will pull Grace into a tizzy. He sticks around long enough to see her reaction and then finds something else more interesting to do. We chuckle at the antics and try to console Grace, but don’t do much more as we figure there isn’t a lot we can do to train good manners from a cat.
Lucky for me and my husband, the animal kingdom is much more skilled at working through their conflict than most people are. We do our best to stay out-of-the-way of their skirmishes unless absolutely necessary.
Managers should not take this approach. Sitting back and watching the tension, conflict, and disruption is not a productive leadership tactic. The situation will get worse, not better, over time. And the other unfortunate consequence is that more people get pulled into the mix, by virtue of the issues getting bigger and more involved.
When two or more co-workers are experiencing some time of friction, it needs to be addressed. The best case scenario is when the individuals most directly involved can work it out together. That’s not always possible, and if it’s not happening, the manager should take the initiative and help.
The first step is acknowledging the situation. The sooner the better, before the layers of hard feelings get too thick. Sometimes, believe it or not, talking it over once can be enough to solve it. Setting expectations for what behavior is acceptable might be enough to change the interactions.
But most situations require on-going attention. Allow those directly involved to talk through how they see it and offer ideas for how to fix it. They need to be the ones who determine how to make the change(s). The manager’s role is to support those changes where appropriate, and track progress to keep things moving in the right direction.
It may not happen overnight, but watch for small things to indicate movement. Acknowledge and celebrate those; remember it’s not easy for those involved so do what you can to keep the momentum.
It’s fun to watch cats play. But don’t let your team get into a cat fight.