The best thing you can do when faced with disruptive behavior

These two brothers fight like all siblings. Their personalities are very different, but it’s not always clear what triggers them to instigate a tussle. Just like in the workplace, we don’t always see or understand the triggers that ignite a confrontation.

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.

Dodger (on the floor) weighs in around 13 lbs, while his lightweight brother, Oliver, at seven lbs, is a formidable opponent. Size and position are not always an indicator of who yields the most power.

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.

After “talking it over” they walk away without any hard feelings. It’s all play to them.

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.

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  1. Michelle on April 25, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    Love these posts – they are truly insightful and entertaining, as well. I think you should have a weekly radio talk show!

    • Robin on April 25, 2012 at 4:20 pm

      Thank you so much, Michelle, for this feedback. I truly appreciate knowing that the posts are helpful (and fun). Have a great day!

  2. Laurie Bartolo on April 25, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Great post, Robin, including the captions in the kitty photos! I can picture the drama playing out between Grace and Dodger…poor Grace! The timing of your post is interesting to me as I’m currently observing a workplace conflict between two people that I like, and it is getting ugly. As a third party, I can see how both people are contributing to the dysfunctional relationship, but it’s really not my place to step in and moderate this one. As you’ve described, it is starting to grow and the hard feelings are possibly too thick to turn around at this point. It’s a shame, as both parties are mature, nice people who just seem to be a bad personality match with one another. This is definitely a situation where I think an assessment would have been helpful during the hiring process – possibly the mismatch could have been uncovered then, or with the knowledge of the different personalities and preferences, these two could have started out on more solid footing.

    • Robin on April 25, 2012 at 4:26 pm

      Thanks, Laurie, I’ll let Grace know you are sympathetic to her woes. She will be grateful for that! And how interesting about the conflict that you are witnessing. I agree with you about how the assessments can be valuable. Even in post-hire situations, having that objective data can open eyes to aspects about a person that were previously not known. Coming to realize how the differences can actually be helpful to each other is part of the process. But there has to be a willingness to be open to the information, too, as you acknowledge. And the longer the conflict goes on, the more difficult that is. As always, soooo appreciate your insight!

  3. LeeAnn on April 25, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    Robin – I love the pictures of Dodger and Oliver! The standoff in the first picture is hilarious – I can totally hear one saying to the other “are you looking at ME???” I love, love, love watching the interactions of the animal kingdom (as long as it is peaceful). I love your Grace, but don’t really feel sorry for her with the cats. Gracie gets out manuevered by Oprah in our house constantly and it makes me laugh out loud. As for the workplace comparison – that is one reason that I am thankful that I am not in human resources. I prefer to duck in such situations, which I know is not the right approach. Have a great rest of your week!

  4. Robin Eichert on April 26, 2012 at 6:55 am

    This made me laugh out loud. I told my husband about your comment and he agrees, he doesn’t feel sorry for Grace. He thinks it’s good for her, not that she’s grown or changed as a result of Dodger’s antics, but that she has to show resistance, which thankfully she has, as we’re certain she wants to bite his head off. I have a feeling you are much more skilled in HR than you give yourself credit for. And I could watch animal interactions all day long, too. Except I’m becoming a wimp watching the nature shows on TV, too much killing! Just one happy ending on occasion would be nice. Hugs to Gracie and Oprah!

  5. Lionel Lloyd on May 1, 2012 at 12:04 am

    Poor Grace. Although if I had watch this display of some kind olympic wrestling match, I’d get a little frazzled too. Of course Grace could resolve all of this by just taking one moment to run into the room while they are playing and wrap her paws around both of their necks, and then run back out. They would have such a “What the hell was that?” kind of shock, that I’m sure they would think twice before would annoy her again.

    • Robin on May 2, 2012 at 8:31 pm

      Oh my gosh, Lionel, I would give anything to see that kind of confidence from Grace. The cats would certainly stop in their tracks! Just having you think of that cracks me up. I’ll whisper it to Grace, in case she decides to take control of the situation!

  6. Happy.Bark.Days on May 2, 2012 at 6:39 am

    Yes, I’ve seen how person-to-person conflicts in the office can lead to some rather uncomfortable situations for the uninvolved co-workers, who sometimes find themselves inadvertently taking ‘sides’. You’re absolutely right in that early intervention can help to prevent the conflict from escalating and potentially affecting the whole team dynamics. By the way, I just learnt through this post that you have two cats in addition to Grace! Dodger and Oliver are adorable 😀

    • Robin on May 2, 2012 at 8:33 pm

      Yes, unresolved issues get more and more uncomfortable for others. And the longer it goes on, the more uncomfortable. I happen to agree with you about Oliver and Dodger being adorable, but Grace would not be happy with our assessment! 🙂

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