Five tips for managing dueling staffers
Child Psychiatrist David Levy introduced the term "sibling rivalry" in 1941. Self-explanatory in its terminology, the concept of sibling rivalry is easy to grasp. The mechanism of employee rivalry works essentially the same way, with the employees in a competitive relationship, striving for greater approval from their employer or manager.
Many managers, in a desperate attempt to be perceived as “fair,” find themselves going crazy as they try to distribute praise evenly and acknowledge hard work equally. Moreover, when they are delivering criticism to one, they feel compelled to deliver it to the other, whether he or she deserves it or not, so they aren’t accused of playing favorites. Rivaling employees who are constantly trying to “best” each other don’t always deliver superior work because of their competition. In fact, the animosity they feel toward one another can stifle their creativity and cause them to deliberately undermine their “opponent’s” efforts. Furthermore, the tension between them can corrupt the attitudes of other employees and cause managers to lose objectivity regarding the rivalry.
Managers who recognize troublesome rivalries between two or more valuable staff members, should seek to resolve these rivalries before they upset otherwise harmonious workplaces. The following is a list of tips that are easy to enact. Consistent application of these suggestions is likely to eliminate or lessen the negative impact of employee rivalries.
1) Collect data. Managers should keep their eyes and ears open when milling amongst their staff. Observe the two rivaling staff members as they interact with each other. Notice attitudes, body language, and temperament. Pay close attention to the things that trigger negativity. Write your observations down. See if you can identify patterns of behavior. The important thing is for managers to recognize the symptoms of the problem such as arguing, gossiping and tattling on each other. Total resolution of employee rivalry may not be possible in certain circumstances; that’s when symptom management becomes the goal. Effective management of the symptoms of employee rivalry can significantly improve an otherwise hostile work environment for everyone concerned.
2) Be willing to separate rivaling employees to reduce tension. This particular tip is a good way for managers to solve their rivalry problems with minimal managerial exertion. Consider, for example, that some personalities are very strong and, while not offensive to the majority of coworkers, may grate on the nerves of other employees. It is often like this with rivaling employees: they just don’t like each other. Their dislike for one another causes them to be overly observant about what the other is doing or not doing. They are too aware of the other’s responsibilities, deficiencies, and positive qualities (which are usually deeply resented). Even the most brilliant conflict resolution specialist would not be able to overcome this sort of interpersonal problem, because the problem is personality based and personality traits are enduring aspects of the self. They don’t change. Therefore, managers’ willingness to move people around could help reduce the kind of tension that leads to declines in productivity and employee morale. It may also reduce the number of “tattle-tale” sessions managers have to endure.