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Getting everyone in a room just made things worse

Dear Office-Politics,

I work in a small office with 7-8 people, with about 23 guys that work outside of the office, in the plant.

We have all “got along” for many years, but this year was a hard one. We have lost people due to budget cuts. We have one lady in our office, who for some reason cannot get along with a certain employee in the plant, and she really needs to for her job to be productive. She came to me many times complaining about this person, insisting that I say nothing. She would say how he was rude to her, etc.

But he is nice to everyone else. This has been going on for a while, and it got to the point where she was upset on a daily basis. So I finally confronted my boss and said we have to do something.

Well the something he did was put them in a room with 3 other people and tried to get it resolved. It didn’t work. They both felt we were on the other’s side “ganging up on them” , the guy denied everything, she cried most of the time and said nothing, I felt horrible for even bringing it up. So, now he doesn’t bother her, but they still don’t communicate, and they both don’t talk to anyone in the office, so its even worse. I don’t know what to do, I wasn’t trained for any thing like this. Any suggestions?

Tension in the office

dr. john burton

Dear Tension,

I think that you have done all that you can to try to address this issue. Your decision to speak to your boss was the right one, even though the outcome seems no better than the previous situation.

The one thing that you might do at this point is to have another conversation with your boss and explore with him the idea of bringing in an outside consultant to try to address the poor state of personal relations in the firm.

Employers, particularly when the firm is facing cutbacks as you are, are often reluctant to incur the expense of an expert in conflict resolution. The cost of poor morale and poor working relationships is, however, far greater, though less visible, than the cost of doing something about them.

Trying to resolve differences by getting everyone in the room together to ‘just talk it out’ is often the approach that employers will adopt in these situations. Unfortunately this process disregards the power dynamics that are at work in such situations. This appears to have been the case here. Based on what you have described there is little that you or your boss can hope to achieve.

What is required is to rebuild some trust between the individuals involved and between them and the boss. I hope that your boss is open to this suggestion. Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.

Yours truly,

John Burton

Dr. John Burton LL.B. M.B.A. M.Div. Ph.D. is an ethicist, mediator, lawyer and theologian. He has taught alternative dispute resolution at Queen’s Law School and Ethics at the Schulich School of Business. John is currently located in Prince Rupert, B.C., Canada, working with Canada’s aboriginal communities.

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