How to bring two competing employees together: find a carrot
In our house, you won’t ever see Grace, our 10-year-old pooch, curling up next to either one of our cats. Grace likes to keep her distance from the felines in the family and will avoid them whenever she can. Oliver and Dodger oblige, rarely infringing on her personal space.
So as I curled up on the sofa, I chuckled as I had both Grace and Oliver vying for some blanket space together. It wasn’t because they were showering me with love. Nor were they were seeking warmth on our all-too-common-frigid-cold days. Their presence was due to the one thing they both love dearly: a carrot. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. Just pulling a bag of carrots out of the refrigerator will awaken both of them out of a deep slumber from far reaches of the house. Oliver loves the smell, Grace wants to eat them.
When we are trying to get two employees to work alongside each other that aren’t particularly fond of each other, we would do well to think of Oliver and Grace. Finding common ground erases many issues, and can often minimize the aggravation each might be feeling. Keeping the eye on the carrot — or whatever common ground the two may have — is an excellent way to build bridges.
What I found fascinating during this exchange, is that they weren’t focused on my carrot at all. Instead of moving towards the item that brought them there, they investigated each other, something that they aren’t usually close enough to do. However, I was enthralled to see their attention focused on each other, and not with any antagonism, but interest. This simple orange vegetable that enticed them to the same place moved them to co-exist calmly in the same space. Happily distracted by the thing that they wanted, they got to experience each other in a new light.
As managers, it’s not our job to get these two individuals to be best friends. We just need to create an environment where both feel safe and valued, which is what happens when we find a place of common ground. Reflect on these questions to find that sweet spot:
- What makes this interaction (or project or situation) interesting or palatable for each person?
- What would help each person contribute their best?
- What outcomes would each person desire?
It might not be quite as easy as offering a peeled carrot, but it doesn’t have to be very complex, either. You can even ask the individuals involved what is important to them. Enlist the help of everyone to find that special carrot. And then watch the magic begin.