Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 2, Issue 51;   December 18, 2002: Caught in the Crossfire

Caught in the Crossfire

by

You lead a company, a department, or a team. When two of your reports get caught up in a feud, what do you do? Let them fight it out? Order them to stop? Fire them both? Here are some tips for making a peace.

Lisa picked up the next interdepartmental envelope, flipped it over, and noticed it was from Boyd. It was marked "Confidential." Oh, not another one, she thought. Sure enough, the memo inside was another volley in the ongoing war between Boyd and Wallace. Three pages of single-spaced venom.

Crossed riflesShe knew she had to read it, but reading it seemed like such a waste of time. Mercifully, the phone rang.

She picked up without looking at the caller ID. "Morning. Lisa."

It was Wallace. "Have you seen it? This is too much. I can't believe…"

Lisa interrupted him. "I know. Don't reply. No emails, no memos. Go for a walk. I'm setting up a meeting with the two of you. I want us to get past this."

Lisa is in the midst of a battle between two of her reports, Boyd and Wallace. It's been going on for some time, but Lisa has just done two things right — she announced her intentions to make a peace, and she intervened to stop Wallace from returning fire.

What she does next can make the difference between moving on to get business done, and losing one, two, or even more employees. Here are some tips for peacekeepers.

Don't let the war go on.
It will only escalate
until you have to act.
Act now
Don't let the war go on. It will only escalate until you have to act. Decide what to do to unwind the conflict, and do it. Hint: reassignment of one of them probably won't fix the problem.
Declare an armistice
If a memo war or an email war is in progress, end it immediately. Put a time-limited embargo on new emails, memos, snide remarks, and private complaints to you. This prevents the situation from getting even more complex.
Assess your own role
When two people are engaged in personal conflict, you might think you aren't involved, and maybe you aren't. But if you're at all close to the conflict, you're probably involved implicitly. Are they contending for your favor? Have you set them up?
Consider a facilitator
Consider enlisting an outside party skilled in addressing personal conflicts, especially if you think you might be playing a role. Give preference to candidates who are unknown to you and to the parties involved in the conflict. An external consultant is ideal. Don't try to do it yourself. Even your dentist goes to another dentist.
Make the first meeting exploratory
Don't expect to find a "solution" without first learning what's happening. You and the two participants in the struggle will certainly have different perspectives. Explore them.

When two people are in conflict, they're often proxies for others. The conflict could be a manifestation of a conflict between organizational elements, or between two or more groups, or even a conflict within someone else. Since the proxies might not be the cause, look for resolution without blame. Go to top Top  Next issue: What's So Good About Being Laid Off?  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

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See also Conflict Management for more related articles.

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Big, fancy words, like commensurate or obfuscation, tend to be more noticed than the little everyday words, like yet or best. That might be why the little words can be so much more powerful, steering conversations where their users want them to go. Available here and by RSS on February 1.
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