When Good People Fall Out

” I don’t understand why they have fallen out–they are both good people and I don’t want to lose either. But I can’t stand the atmosphere at work anymore!”

How often do you hear this? I hear it on a regular basis. It seems that managers feel “good people” should know how to get along–but it isn’t always the case. When good people fall out, it can poison a work atmosphere, set a bad example for other staff, and cause stress not just to the two people, but also to their manager and to their team. There are several ways people try and cope

  • Make sure they never have to work together
  • Ignore it
  • Take sides
  • Leave
  • Talk about it with everyone but the two involved

It’s pretty obvious that these strategies don’t work on a long term basis. So what can you do?

Why does it happen?

Well, stopping and thinking about what might be making good people behave badly is a start. The BS guys did an experiment based on Bandura’s theory of how good people get manipulated into behaving badly which might give you some insights.- view here.

Basically, there are several situations that put pressure on people to behave badly–when there is competition, insecurity, misunderstanding, dehumanising or lack of responsibility. So first, work out if it’s the environment and the social situation that is putting people under strain. When you’re stressed, your milk of human kindness tends to dry up and you’re more likely to fall out.

When good people fall out, it’s helpful to think about what might cause them to behave in an uncharacteristic way.  Dr Ross Greene‘s Collaborative & Proactive Solutions method of managing behaviorally challenging children has lessons that are equally applicable for adults. He believes that kids do well if they can and often it is a lack of skills that is causing the problem, not a lack of motivation to do well. What skills can you provide to help people solve their problems without falling out? Perhaps they need something that they don’t know how to ask for.

“The children (people) who need love the most will always ask for it in the most unloving ways.”
Russel Barkley

What can be done?

If no one holds the “good people” accountable for their behaviour, they will continue to fall out.  If they are threatened, they will seek to justify their behaviour by finding fault with each other. That’s why getting people to keep a record of instances can be counter productive.

A more constructive approach is to speak to each person individually and establish common ground–this is where a skilled mediator or coach specialising in the field can help.  This gives each person a chance to air their views to someone who doesn’t judge and gently helps them to see the benefits of resolution as well as explore the options. As a mediator and coach, I have found the chance to talk in a safe environment helps people take responsibility and changes their perspective. If you would like a confidential, complimentary chat about a situation at your organisation, contact me. Often, just talking about the situation helps you realise what you need to do.