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When Employees Hate Each Other: 6 Tips for Resolving Coworker Conflict


Resolving coworker conflictContrary to the popular phrase “Ignorance is bliss,” it’s not – especially if you’re the manager of two workers who genuinely don’t get along. When two employees hate each other, their animosity can turn a healthy working environment into a toxic space. Coworker conflict will always come up; you can’t be everyone’s best friend. However, you need to be civil and able to work together. The longer the dislike between employees endures, the more it’s likely to hurt their productivity and that of those around them. Eventually, it needs to change and be remedied.

If the conflict is among hourly workers, you’d probably be inclined to ignore the spat, or perhaps discipline the employees if it has affected their performance. You may even just let one or both go to avoid the drama. However, when the feud is between professional staff, the situation becomes more complicated. And, when the conflict is between peers who are vying for an upcoming vacancy due to executive succession planning, emotions and ambitions can get the best of anyone.

Hopefully you proactively screen out candidates with behavioral issues using pre-hire assessments. But, dislike among workers can stem from any number of work- or non-work-related issues. Perhaps they’re from different social circles or have differing backgrounds; it could be the way they do (or don’t do) their work; or something trivial such as the sound of their voice or malodorous lunch they eat in the other’s vicinity. Whatever the reason, it is in everyone’s best interest to address and resolve the matter before it becomes toxic in the office.

Outcomes of Coworker Conflict

Once you're made aware of your employees not getting along, there are six possible outcomes of resolving conflict among coworkers:

  • Both parties work out their differences, rise above, and move on.
  • Both parties agree to disagree, but get past it and move on.
  • Both parties say they’ve moved on, but one or both secretly harbors continued ill will. Negativity lurks and performance soon begins to dip.
  • One party sucks it up and acquiesces while the other seemingly “wins.” Conflict could continue.
  • The “wrong” party won’t budge and needs to be removed from the department and possibly let go.
  • The situation damages both workers and both leave.

You’ve probably encountered people in your personal or professional lives who always seem to be mired in drama and have a knack for dragging others into their issues. If you think, “Here we go again” regarding one of the employees involved in the conflict, then that’s probably a sign that the person needs to change their attitude or be terminated.

I once worked for a manager who reveled in intra-departmental friction among his team members. His logic was that it made us more competitive against each other in an effort to win his praise, thus pushing us to perform at even higher levels than if we were all best friends. I can’t help comparing this experience to a modern-day arena of gladiators, fighting to the death for the whim of their leaders. Unless you’re a professional athlete, work is not a sport and employees should not be treated as pawns in your game.

Some would argue that creative tension among peers and coworkers can yield superior results due to the competition and rivalry that is formed. While this might be true on a project basis, it can easily establish a permanent us-versus-them culture that devolves into conflict.

Here’s another thought: if you allow coworker conflict to linger without addressing it, one of the workers (or both, or an uninvolved third worker) could go around you to your boss or to HR, making an uncomfortable situation much worse. The implications will be clear: “This was brought to the manager’s attention, and he either chose to ignore it or didn’t know how to deal with it. He’s incompetent.” This could backfire on them, but the damage to your reputation and unwanted scrutiny on your group will be done.

Six Tips for Resolving and Avoiding Coworker Conflict

What can you do to resolve coworker conflict? Each situation will be different, but here are some ways to deal with and avoid future feuding employees:

  1. Meet with the feuding coworkers to see if you can remedy the situation. Do this quickly to avoid letting it fester and spiral out of control.
  2. Alert your boss to the situation so that they’re not blindsided by any necessary disciplinary actions now or in the future.
  3. Involve HR as necessary, which could be as an independent mediator, to put difficult employees on notice or probation, or to begin the process of transferring the troublemakers to another department or location.
  4. Advocate an environment of respect, tolerance, and civility in the office.
  5. Maintain an open dialogue with your employees. Freely sharing information and updates on the company and department will quell the need for gossip and rumors.
  6. Review your policies on use of company email and social media sites. Some disgruntled employees will take their rants online either within or outside of the company. Know your company’s electronic media policies and communicate them with all employees.

For more on this topic, read:

Three Types of Difficult Employees (and How to Deal with Them)

Coaching and Developing Difficult Employees

Mastering Management

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2013 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.


Jeffrey, you have made a number of good points. Clearly employee conflict must be dealt with effectively and proactively by the employees' manager. But when it is two people in authority who conflict, get a mediator other than HR. 
My experience as a Coach tells me using someone external to the organization gets to the real root of the issue, quickly. Frequently the conflicting employees' supervisor is part of the problem. At certain levels, an attempt at resolution with internal HR staff meets with resistance, not change.
Posted @ Friday, December 16, 2011 12:55 PM by Craig Juengling
Great points, Craig. Yes, managers can certainly be a part of the problem, and an external mediator is often better than one from HR or elsewhere in the organization. I would expect that the higher the level of conflicting employees, the more often an external mediator would be used. In smaller organizations, it is also more likely that the HR staff knows the employees involved and could be biased for or against one of them (once again making the case for external guidance).
Posted @ Friday, December 16, 2011 1:33 PM by Jeffrey Meyers
Although there is sound advice in this column, circumstances and methods for resolving conflict can vary greatly between the public and private sector. This column presents more of a one size fits all perspective which may not be effective or even legal when public, non-exempt employees are involved.
Posted @ Tuesday, December 20, 2011 2:01 PM by George Good
I am the middle level manager of the new team who was mistreated by the new manager who is my ex-mentor with failure in our mentoring relationship last year. After 5 months she has turned to be my manager, I was collectively pressed by herself and my subordinates who consistantly gave me feedback that I embraced to the point I said this made me not quite myself. Therefore, I later didn't agree but recommended to use group facilitation to move on. I was ended up with the warning letter so I reported the harrassment to company's hotline and management. the next level manager investigated and informed me that my manager was found innocent. They demoted me and said to me that I had no choice. Either take it or resign!! Therefore, I was seeking justice for myself through the labor court. I was so sad to be treated this way with my wholeheartedly loyalty to the company I've worked for 11 years. Believe me or not, all of these happened in HR Department.... Someone told me about the queen bee theory!! I have to stand up for my dignity
Posted @ Thursday, September 20, 2012 9:47 PM by Anonymous
Any substantial change in a person's job without their consent is considered constructive dismissal, and you are eligible for proper notice in accordance with both employment standards minimum notice requirements, and common law notice. If your employer is demoting (constructively dismissing) for cause, they need to be able to provide documentation and prove a process was followed showing that the dismissal was justified, and that less severe solutions were tried and ineffective.
Posted @ Thursday, January 17, 2013 12:28 PM by Jason
what about when its IN HR? and one employee is the manager and the other is a total rock star who could replace that manager? the talks havent worked...
Posted @ Friday, March 08, 2013 12:21 PM by none
If you have a coworker backstabbing you and talking bad about you, true or not, you have to try to put a stop to it. It's not easy when two employees do not like each other. Nothing else may be more effective than trying to talk to the back stabber. Your boss may not know what to do, other than perhaps take sides. If he or she is friends with your backstabber, he or she will take his or her side. Be prepared to confront your backstabber, otherwise the gossiping and lies may spread like fire in your company. If you have nothing to hide or be ashamed of, you have to confront your backstabber. He or she has to stop bath mouthing you. Start with a simple question like is it true that that you told an employee or student (if a school job site) that (whatever)? See what he or she has to say and try to build a conversation (without getting upset) with this jerk.
Posted @ Friday, June 07, 2013 12:08 AM by frank ortiz
Good stuff very informative. Will appreciate tips on how to deal with Managers who hate each other as it seriously affects not only their performance but the performance of their teams. How will you bring team synergy at the managers level??
Posted @ Friday, July 19, 2013 9:25 AM by Juliana Nguli
At our office, We have been using online time recording software from Replicon. Our boss have introduced this software to our office to avoid conflicts between the employees. One should complete their task at a given period and as this software tracks and monitor the time more accurately. So, no one has time to speak or waste their time by fighting each other. Till now, we haven't faced any kind of conflicts at our workplace.
Posted @ Monday, July 29, 2013 1:55 PM by Grace.bjorn
Everyday is a new learning to make. Take the challenge and move forward to achieving your goals..
Posted @ Friday, August 23, 2013 1:03 AM by dishwasher sizes
I was laid off today as a supervisor because I had an employee who was black and did not like me and there was some conflict between us. I was told it was because I went to the boss and they did not need a supervisor anymore. Is this legal? Or was I terminated unjustafiable
Posted @ Tuesday, September 10, 2013 8:14 PM by Mis judged
Im sorry to hear you were laid off. Conflict between coworkers can be tricky sometimes. If you feel you were wrongfully terminated, you should speak to a lawyer.
Posted @ Wednesday, September 11, 2013 4:34 PM by Aoife Gorey
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Posted @ Friday, October 18, 2013 3:23 AM by Divorce Lawyer
Take off for the day go home, take rest and come back fresh and relaxed next morning and talk to him/her as if there was no yesterday. Simple.
Posted @ Wednesday, October 23, 2013 10:10 AM by Lawyer Singapore
I am a mid level manager, and I don't care for a peer (another manager), on a personal level. It seems that eveyhing he says just gets my goat. However, I try my best to maintain professionalism for his sake as well as mine. We both have direct reports to manage, and we cannot allow them to see the friction between us or it erodes our authority and the ability to do our jobs. I think he does a good job and is the right person for his postion, I just can't stand him on a personal level. 
I need advice, though, because one of his direct reports came to me and asked me to keep the conversation confidential - she does not want me to speak to him or to our manager regarding the issues she brought to me. She stated she feels she has been set up to fail becuase this manager does not train her but holds her accountable, disagrees with her deicisions regarding her direct reports (often right in front of them), and does not support her or help her develop her own career.  
I want to help her but if she does not want me to escalate this or to discuss it with her supervisor, what should I do?
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Save for future issues.
Posted @ Sunday, January 05, 2014 11:41 AM by Cindi
If the employees feel they can work their problems out without the intervention of a third party, compliment them on their willingness to do so. However, enlist their understanding that you expect them to resolve these issues.
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Posted @ Friday, February 14, 2014 10:39 AM by Ajani Abiola
I am a new office manager at a Dr's ofc, 6 months now. I have an employee that was demoted, she had been the acting office manager, so there are hurt feelings. She continues to work here two days a week. There is another employee that remains very good friends with her. I found out that there had been a list made of what they thought were my mistakes (but they were wrong). They had been going through all of my work and had intended to take it to the Dr's. I took the list made a copy then shredded. Next day 2nd employee comes in and gets irate for someone being in her desk. She then went to the Dr's to complain. I spoke with my Dr's and they agreed this was not going to fly and that they backed me a 100%. After a week both girls were confronted by the Dr's. They slapped them on the hand and didn't write her up even after them telling her she had been insubordinate. I feel that the employees have no respect for me of although I have tried several times to mend fences and to be professional. We even had a meeting between myself, the two girls and the Dr. which I have to say helped. But I can't get passed how this was all handled. Advice please. 
Posted @ Friday, May 09, 2014 10:10 AM by Gracie Jernigan
Excellent tips, I've set it for my work. Thamk you for sharing. Very useful.
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Posted @ Wednesday, May 21, 2014 5:40 AM by SSC Coaching Chandigarh
I work with a few controlling employees that get away with anything they want and can treat people how they wish. I am sick of it!! I work at a small family owned business and management need training on how to deal with social skills and these continual confrontations. I hear about it all the time from one particular employee and management will do NOTHING to stop this. It is tense and stressful. I have complained about it numerous times to no avail and the miserable employee creating this drama basically calledme a tattle tale. I have done everything in my power to get her to stop this behavior at work. I think that she feels threatened by the other woman, so she is being like this. She is so miserable. What are my options besides finding another job? Please any advice!!
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Posted @ Monday, September 15, 2014 9:11 PM by obat sesak nafas
Yes!I agree..we need to Resolved any conflict between workers or even the managers. One of the most important thing in one company is the team should work as one not having a conflict to anyone.
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