The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How do you resolve an office feud?” is written by Joshua Hebert, CEO of Magellan Jets.
Office feuds can derail a rising star’s path to growth if they aren’t handled the right way. Trust me, I’ve seen office politics get ugly.
I remember when I was 25 and on the rise on Wall Street. One day I found myself fuming about Lincoln, my colleague on the sales team. He had made a comment about my coming into work later than he did, and was undermining me with the junior staff. From where I sat, I saw him taking out his poor performance issues on me; he was trying to drag me down to his level.
I was thinking that this was going to start costing me money soon. I thought to give him some of his own medicine and turn the staff against him. With his low numbers, I figured he’d be shown the door in six months. He’d pay the price for underestimating me.
What I didn’t see was that this plan would only make things worse. By taking him on, I made my manager’s life harder, which in turn made our director’s and eventually the vice president’s job harder as well. Eventually, the whole department felt the work environment tense up.
If you ever find yourself in a feud like this, you should follow these steps instead:
Have an honest discussion
Buy your nemesis a drink and share your perspective with them. Speak clearly about what’s bothering you and why, and most likely they’ll return the favor. I’ve found that 99 times out of 100, these office feuds are more about miscommunication and misinformation than genuine dislike. The only way to know is to talk about it one on one. Try to come to terms before the relationship really starts tanking and brings the people around both of you down with it.
Turn to a mentor
If a frank conversation doesn’t work, turn to your greatest ally: your mentor. (If you don’t have a mentor yet, seriously think about finding one.) Talk to a seasoned manager or superior at the company who you trust. They may offer some immediate tips, and they may also be in a position to raise the issue at the management level in order to put an end to it.
I know this sounds like ratting someone out. But the reality is that directors want to know what’s going on between employees so that they can end disputes before they create much more intense messes. Once these problems start growing, they affect the chemistry of the whole team, and depending on how big the company is, maybe the whole organization.
Think beyond the feud
Whether or not the dispute gets resolved at that point, think big. Suggest a change that will keep communication issues to a minimum. One idea is to have departments invite leaders from different areas of the company (it could even be the CEO or president) to interview people in each department about what’s working and what’s not. You’d be surprised how much more transparent people are when they’re talking to someone who isn’t their direct supervisor. We do this at Magellan, and management learns about concerns they didn’t even know existed.
Career building can be cutthroat, but battling with your own team is a recipe for failure. You can’t get to a high level in your field if you let the small stuff bring you down. Rise above that and understand that clear communication solves a lot of problems at every level of the organization.