How to Untangle a Nasty Feud at Work

Power struggles are the essence of great theater (think Hamilton). Yet, if the backstabbing is not squelched, the damage is deadly. Read about Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and their duel. Or better yet, beg, borrow or steal (well, not the latter) and get tickets to see this brilliant play that is basically about office politics around the globe.

In today’s business world, it’s not enough to just do a great job and expect to be promoted and valued. You must be both savvy and strategic and take in the whole picture.

Systems thinking is core to untangling a feud at work. Whether you are one of the rivals or just living in the toxic environment, you can’t simply watch from the sidelines. If you’re in a toxic soup, eventually, you will be affected and stress will bring you down. So, learn to think systemically. Learn to connect the dots and then the nuances of the situation will become clear.

Everyone is involved.

Let me say this again, everyone is involved. We play off against each other. You and me and Alexander and Aaron, everyone.

First, let’s look at what needs to be thrown in the trash. That includes fear, pressure, and greed. These can then be replaced with courage, acceptance, and generosity.

Not easy to turn our basic human nature from fight, flight or freeze to listening, learning, and loving. Yet, if you want a productive and successful work environment, ya gotta pivot.

Get a coach, call in a mediator, find a friend in human resources who has the smarts to bring the rivals together and get them talking. Then the whole team needs to weigh in.

Or how about you take on the role of peacemaker?

When we were kids, it was all about the playground. Who was hogging the swings or pushing someone to the ground just for the fun of it? Did you speak out when you saw bullying or stand to the side? Did you get a teacher or parent to intervene or gossip with others about what was going on without stepping up? Perhaps, you were the one stirring up all the trouble?

Now is the time for you to take charge, regardless of your position at work.

Too many of us say, “It’s not my problem,” yet, when you see things systemically, it really is your problem, too. Think of it this way, we’re all connected and no one wins unless we all do.

I ask you, is this way of viewing situations too soft and fluffy? Are we all just meant to either push each other around or go to the other extreme and ignore what’s happening right in front of our eyes?

Two simple words can help untangle a feud at work: Speak Up.

And here is the best, absolute best, sentence to use when you speak up. Ask the rivals either together or separately, the following question:

“What do you want as an outcome from this situation?”

That’s it. Ask it over and over. Hold the rivals accountable for their behavior and let them find the answers.

Your job is to be courageous enough to ask, accepting enough to give them room to struggle and find the answers, and generous and gracious enough to hang in there and help them come to a meeting of the minds.

If that had only happened back in the day with Hamilton and Burr, the outcome could have been so much more beneficial – not just for the two men, but we all would have benefited from their brilliance for years to come.

Years after the duel, Burr was quoted as saying, “I should have known the world was wide enough for Hamilton and me.”

Think about this and become part of a better way. Help rivals see that tolerating differences can work for everyone’s benefit.

And if you are one of the rivals, understand that the world is, in fact, large enough for everyone!

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Sylvia Lafair

Creative Energy Options