Discussion Monday: A case of coworker conflict…

 

In today’s “Discussion Monday,” let’s think through a scenario.

The scenario is set in an office (or similar professional environment)…

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Imagine that Chris works in a small company. He supervises two technicians, Rachel and Andrew.

Rachel, one of the technicians, has been working at the company for 3 years. She is an introvert, mostly keeping to herself, and very quiet. She works hard, and has proven herself to be dependable and professional. She’s usually the first to arrive at the office, and the last to leave. Rachel and her boss Chris have always gotten along very well. They have also always had a great collaborative relationship.

Andrew, the other technician, was hired just a couple months ago. He is an extrovert, with a big outgoing personality. He’s very friendly and loves to get to know people. In the short time he has been working at the company, he has befriended many other technicians in the department. Although Andrew hasn’t been at the company long, he gets along well with his boss Chris.

For the past few years, Rachel has had her own office. When Andrew was hired, Chris decided to put Andrew in the same office as Rachel. After all, the two technicians work on some of the same projects.

Chris, Rachel, and Andrew meet as a group every month to discuss team projects. Additionally, Chris also meet one-on-one with each technician to discuss their individual projects.

Chris is impressed that Rachel and Andrew are able to get along so well, despite their obvious personality differences.

After a few months go by.

During one of Chris’s one-on-one meetings with Andrew, Chris is surprised to see that Andrew suddenly gets emotional. Andrew tells Chris that he is experiencing tension with Rachel. Chris can hardly believe it; he thought the two of them were getting along so well!

A few days later, Chris has one of his one-on-one meetings with Rachel. He thinks she might mention something about tension with Andrew, but she does not say anything out of the ordinary.

Chris decides that since Rachel didn’t bring anything up, it must not be a big deal. Maybe Andrew was overreacting about the whole thing. Chris hopes that it will all blow over.

A few weeks later, Chris notices that Rachel has gotten even more withdrawn and quiet than usual. She says she is simply busy with her work, so he assumes that she is just a little stressed.

Another month goes by.

In Chris’s next one-on-one meeting with Andrew, he is surprised once again to see that Andrew gets emotional and breaks down. He says that there is still a lot of tension with Rachel. Andrew says that he is miserable, and wants to quit.

In that moment, Chris is filled with frustration.

On an impulse, Chris decides to call Rachel into the office right then and there.

Rachel enters. As soon as she sees the look on Andrew’s face, she gets visibly uncomfortable.

Out of frustration, Chris forcefully tells both Rachel that she needs to figure out how to get along with Andrew. In his anger, Chris accidentally gets carried away, and ends up yelling.

Rachel looks surprised and on the verge of tears. She is totally caught off guard.

Later, Chris feels very bad about the way he handled the meeting. He genuinely wants to make the situation better for both of the technicians. He didn’t mean to come off as though he was angry.

As the manager, Chris does not want the technicians’ work to be affected. But more importantly, Chris actually cares about both of Rachel and Andrew. He wants to improve the situation… he just is not sure how to do that.

Chris believes that the tension in the air is due to a clash of personalities. Andrew and Rachel share a small office, and have very different approaches to work and interaction. Maybe everything would be smoother if they weren’t sharing an office.

Chris decides to move Andrew into the office next door. He thinks that they will both be happier with the new arrangement.

Although Rachel and Andrew no longer share an office, they still work on overlapping projects. They also participate at the same team meetings. They seem to be able to work professionally, but Chris knows that the dynamics in the office are not the same.

In the months that follow, Andrew returns to his usual boisterous, extroverted self. However, Rachel continues to grow more withdrawn than ever before. Eventually, she accepts a job at a different company.

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Just a couple comments on the above scenario.

Like many of you, I have spent the past 20 years (give or take) working in a professional environment. Even in the most benign setting, sometimes personalities simply don’t “jive.” That’s life. From what I’ve seen, when coworkers don’t get along, it can play out in various ways. Sometimes both parties are able to get over it, and it doesn’t turn into anything. But other times, it turns into a big deal.

I genuinely feel for and relate to each of the characters in the scenario. Chris is just trying to “fix” this issue. Andrew, being the extrovert, wants to talk it out. Rachel, an introvert, wants to avoid confrontation. I can understand why each of them acted and reacted in their own way.

All the characters in this scenario are fictional, but there are many REAL situations like this that happen in the workplace.

And you know what? I have yet to see one of these scenarios play out where all parties equally feel that it was handled well. It seems like there is always at least one person who feels “jipped.”

I would love to know what you think!

Oh, and check out some previous discussions!

Which character do you relate to most? Share your wisdom for handling workplace conflict!   

92 thoughts on “Discussion Monday: A case of coworker conflict…

  1. Human beings are complicated and when different personalities are forced to share small spaces, all bets are off. I feel for everyone in this situation but believe each person has to be open and direct, no matter how difficult confrontation is. If they can talk about it calmly, they can come up with a solution together.

    1. Hi Lois! Thanks for weighing in. I agree ideally it would be best for conflicts to be dealt with openly, respectfully, and fairly. It’s sometimes hard to know exactly how to do that in the “real world” — you are right, human beings are complicated!

    1. I agree, sharing small spaces can sometimes be rough! It’s always preferable if everyone can be respectful of each others’ differences. :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts Elinor, I hope you enjoy the rest of your Monday!

  2. It is so hard to navigate your day when you have to deal with difficult coworkers. Every person is responsible for their actions and each person in this scenario could have handled it differently.

    1. I agree, things get so much more complicated when there is tension with coworkers. And yes, each person totally could have done things differently! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your perspective! :)

  3. I kind of relate to all the characters under different circumstances. But best is to sort things out in a mature way but talking it out. May not be easy but worth a try.

    1. Hi Aritra! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your perspective. I too can relate to each of the characters in their own way. I hope your day is going well so far! :)

  4. It can be so hard to work with people who are completely different than you. Many years ago, when I was working part-time, I had to share a desk with another part-timer who couldn’t be more different than me. I needed the desk neat and organized and she would leave it a mess. Eventually, I talked to my boss and we decided that it would be best that we shared a desk with others more like us and it worked out for all of us.

    1. PS, this is also why I love working at home for myself! It’s just my husband and kids that I deal with every day, and we know how to handle each other!

    2. Hi Stephanie! Thanks for sharing your experience! I think you hit the nail on the head when you say it’s hard to work with people who are completely different than you. I prefer a neat desk too, and would definitely find it distracting to be surrounded by someone else’s clutter all day long. It’s nice that your boss was understanding about the situation. I hope you are having an awesome week so far! :)

  5. So lucky I always know how to harmonize the relationship between me and others. I’m rarely mad with people because it’s not mature and it doesn’t solve any problem.

    1. It’s true, getting mad doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. I think if everyone approached situations with maturity and the goal of harmony, there would be fewer conflicts all around. Thanks for stopping by! I hope you are having an amazing day so far! :)

  6. I was in the military for 5 years. I spent over a year overseas deployed. Work place conflict can be HUGE in those secluded places and I always found it difficult to get through. I was sometimes the lone female too which made it even harder at times.

    1. Tavoa, a big sincere thank you for your service. I can’t imagine dealing with workplace conflict in a secluded place and being the only female. You are amazing. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this! Have an awesome afternoon! :)

  7. I am an extreme introvert, which is probably why I prefer to work from home. I have never excelled in an office environment with lots of people, mainly because I don’t like the drama and the conflict. So annoying!

    1. I’m an introvert too! I find that office environments can either be amazing or terrible – I suppose it all depends on the people! You are super fortunate that you get to work from home, that would be the dream! Thanks for stopping by, I hope your Monday is going well so far! :)

  8. Work relationships are challenging, especially when there are opposing personality traits. I think the manager should have evaluated the situation a little bit more before thrusting the employees in the same office. Especially since Rachel has proven herself, and she’s been in her own office. Regardless of the situation, it would feel to me as if she or her work was being demoted by losing her own office and having to share her space after she had it as her own for a while.

    1. That’s a good point. It would be hard for an introvert (or anyone, really) to adjust to sharing a small office with someone else after years of having their own office… especially someone with a completely different personality type. And yes, it probably would feel a bit like getting demoted, wouldn’t it. Thanks for sharing your perspective on this! I hope you’re having a great day so far! :)

  9. I was kind of waiting for the twist in this story, not sure why.
    I have worked in management for many years and there are still some situations that no matter how well planned you think you are with handing sensitive situations things can still go awry. It is not always easy dealing with many different personality types and dynamics

    1. haha a twist would have been more fun! I’m sure you’ve seen a lot in management – so true that sensitive situations can “turn” even in spite of all the planning in the world. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! :)

  10. Conflicts at work are always terrible. All it takes is one person having a bad day to ruin the whole week at work. I think it’s important for people to remember that we are all human and sometimes we just need to talk about what’s bothering us and move on.

    1. I agree Magen. Being open about what’s bothering us can be so tough, especially for people who don’t do well with confrontation, but it can be such an important step in finding a solution. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I hope your week is starting off nicely! :)

  11. Gosh, this is such a difficult one.. there are so many nuances to the mix of personalities in any given work space. It truly can make or break you work experience and productivity!

    1. It’s true, each case is a unique blend of personalities and preferences. And also true, this type of thing really can make or break your own experience and productivity. It can be tough figuring out how to handle each case best, since each is different. Thanks for weighing in! I hope you’re enjoying your Monday! :)

  12. When I used to work in a small retail department, there were a lot of personality clashes & it was unbearable. Suppose you can’t get on with everyone! I’m just lucky I work for myself now – no drama!

    1. Hi Tatiana! You are so right, it really can be unbearable. You are fortunate that you get to work for yourself, that is the dream for sure! :) Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate hearing your thoughts! :)

  13. It can be difficult to get along with people, but it is important to try to understand them! You never know what you may have in common that you wouldn’t realize at first.

    1. Yes! I totally agree with this. We may not always get along with everyone, but we can still treat people with respect and compassion — and you’re so right, we may find that we actually have something in common! :)

  14. Hi. I would not have called Rachel in to discuss the situation while Andrew was in the office and visibly upset. I would have met with the separately and found out what their issues were with each other. Based on their answers, I would have tried to resolve their issues by either moving their offices so they didn’t sit together or by leaving them in the same space hut asking them directly how THEY felt the situation can be remedied. Sharing a small office is not easy, especially with two people who have very different personalities. Little things will get on each other’s nerves and that will affect how they work together on projects. Chances are moving them to a different space could have resolved the problem. However, Chris made a mistake when he asked Rachel to join and ASSUMED that she was at fault.

    1. I so appreciate hearing your thoughts on this! I agree, Chris could totally have handled things differently. Calling Rachel in when Andrew was visibly upset probably made Rachel feel like she was being blind-sided. No one likes that feeling. And you are right, assuming it was her fault right off the bat likely did not help the situation at all. I like your approach of either moving them so they don’t share a space, or asking THEM what could be done to remedy the situation. You’re so right – sharing an office is not easy, and it could potentially result in both being miserable, as well as reduced productivity at work. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I hope your Monday is wrapping up well! :)

      1. Monday not so great but I liked your post. I’m a manager and that’s how I would have handled it. I had an office alone for over 12 years and just this past year have to share with someone else. I don’t mind it. We get along great and the share makes sense. However it’s not always like this as in your example. I can relate to your post in many ways. It was a pleasure reading. And for what it’s worth, Rachel fictional or not made the right decision to leave as she felt disrespected and unflavored over Andrew despite the fact that she had been there longer.

      2. I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t have a great Monday – hopefully the rest of the week will get better! I’m glad you don’t mind sharing an office, it’s great when these things work out well. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and I agree with you — the Rachel character made the right call to find a better working environment for herself. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! :)

  15. This scenario is so familiar to me. When I had a very big team to manage a few years ago, I found that managing personalities was far more difficult than the job itself. I don’t think Chris addressed this properly. He should have spoken to each of them individually to determine the problem and encouraged dialogue between them our with him as a mediator. Communication is key in resolving conflict.

    1. Yes, I have so much respect for anyone in managerial positions, because what you say is true — managing personalities can be much more difficult and complicated than the actual job itself. I agree, talking to each person directly/individually can go a long way to figuring out the source of the tension, and allow each person to feel heard. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, you are so right — communication really is key in resolving conflict! :)

    1. Agreed, it’s never easy for anyone involved when things turn sour in a work relationship. You are fortunate to have your freelancing! Thanks for dropping by – I hope your week is off to an amazing start! :)

  16. Disagreement doesn’t automatically have to result in confrontation assuming the people involved have the skills to keep situations from escalating, particularly the leader in that situations. It’s not easy work, but doable. Great read!

    1. That’s true, things don’t always need to escalate, and much trouble can be averted with good leadership. Thanks for sharing your perspective Lakisha, I hope you have a nice evening! :)

  17. Human as we are, there are always instances when misunderstanding and miscommunication occurs. However, I learned that we co-workers must always find time to sort out this kind of issues to avoid affecting their professional relationship and tasks. Again, easier said that done, so leaders must also try to mend the situation.

    1. Hi Carol! Thanks for stopping by! I agree, it’s so much easier said than done, and yes, leaders can really help to facilitate resolution. I hope your week is off to a great start! :)

  18. well I hate to say it but that’s life… some people just don’t mix well. BUT in saying that, people should ‘try’ to make an effort to resolve the problem otherwise it’s going to follow them wherever they go… it sounds like Rachel is running from her problems and if that’s the case she’ll most likely be changing jobs every so often.
    I believe in communication whether it be verbal or written, maybe they should have come up with a fair compromise in writing since she doesn’t like confrontation. I would ask each of them how they would like to tackle the situation and work from there… Also maybe she would have been fine if the boss didn’t yell but instead approached her in a respectful way like ‘hey I’ve noticed you’re a little more quiet than usual and I thought I’d check in and see if there’s anything bothering you that we can work on to fix.’
    Dealing with others problems is difficult, so speaking with genuine concern tends to come through and people are more likely to gravitate towards finding a solution.

    1. you’re right, sometimes these things happen and some people don’t mix. I agree that there should be effort made from both/all parties to foster open communication. I like your approach of respectfully speaking with each person, and showing genuine concern. Thanks for sharing your perspective! I hope you’re having a great day so far! :)

  19. Difficult coworkers are toxic..it’s one of the reasons I left my job because it was having such an impact on me!

    1. These situations can have a huge impact on sense of well-being. I don’t blame you for leaving your job due to the toxic environment. Thanks for stopping by, hope your day is off to a great start! 😊

  20. I’ve dealt with my fair share of difficult coworkers over my time. I’ve found the best way to deal with them is address is head on – ask them what their problem is, why they are doing something. I’ve found most won’t admit to their toxic behaviour but at least pull their head in afterwards!

    1. Addressing issues head on certainly can go a long way towards resolving conflict, and might even prevent the problem from escalating. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and have an amazing day Cassie! 😊

  21. I agree to your point here, not all parties can be equally happy with the outcome. Corporate world is a difficult to be in if you are an introvert, i have experienced it.

    1. It seems like no matter how you slice it, someone always ends up feeling like they got the short end of the stick. I agree, the corporate world cam be tough!

  22. I can totally relate to this story! I have had two jobs where the work environment had a drastic impact on my emotional well being. I know this was just a scenerio, but after the dramatic experience, and Chris started to return to his normal self I would think some one-on-one conversations allowing her space to share her thoughts and some attention/care about how Rachel was doing may’ve helped the situation and could’ve possibly prevented her from leaving.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your 2 job experiences. I agree, showing more concern over time could have helped Rachel to feel heard and supported, and might even have prevented her from leaving. Thanks for contributing your thoughts, Amber! I hope your week is going well so far! 😊

  23. Addressing issues head on certainly can go a long way towards resolving conflict, and might even prevent the problem from escalating. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and have an amazing day Cassie! 😊

  24. I think the supervisor should have talked to Rachel after Chris mentions concerns. Once he talked to Rachel he should have then brought them together to discuss concerns. He allowed the tension to build and he became angry. 2nd thing he did wrong was move there offices without discussing the problem. Rachel leaves and he never really know why. Rachel probably feels upset because supervisor yelled at her, maybe she thinks he is taking Chris side, Rachel probably feels uncomfortable because lots of people like Chris. I feel bad that Rachel appeared to love her job but left because of Chris and her supervisors response. Work conflicts are always difficult.

    1. Hi Tiffany! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree it would probably have been helpful if the supervisor had spoken with Rachel as soon as he was alerted to the issue. I agree –
      not dealing with it right away likely allowed tension to build. I like your insightful comment about Rachel — yes, she must have felt that the supervisor took Andrew’s side. And she may have also felt like other coworkers took Andrew’s side too, since he was “popular” amongst the coworkers. Great thoughts all around. I hope your week is going well so far! :)

  25. I am made that these people aren’t real, because I really was hoping Rachel gave some insight as to what was going on. I’ve been in working situation where it was tension. You just have to do your job and if its get unbearable hopefully you have a manager you can talk to about it. Unless its the manager.

    1. Hi Bernetta! I agree! I would certainly hope we all have managers that we can talk openly with! and also that the managers are part of the solution and not the problem! Thanks for stopping by, i hope your day is going well! 😊

  26. Work realtionships can be difficult at times as we all have different personalities. Still we all have to be able to do our jobs and get along. I manage 4 people myself and I would have handled the situation differently. I forts would have a talk with Rachel to find out what is going on and after that have a meeting with both of them to see how we can improve the collaboration between both of them.

    1. That sounds like a very reasonable approach! Thanks for sharing your perspective, especially as you have experience in management already! I hope you enjoy the rest of your day! :)

  27. If you have been in the working world, I think all of us can relate to some part of this story! I am very thankful that I got along really well with the person I used to share an office with because its almost like a roommate! And if there is tension its going to be hard for everyone!

    1. Hi Carissa! You put it accurately when you say sharing an office is similar to having a roommate! I’m glad to hear you got along well with your officemate! 😊

  28. This is really enlightening! When I was working in the office place. My assistant didn’t have the best vibes for me and it negatively impacted the entire team. I understand what you are saying. Communication is so important. My voice wasn’t strong but then but now that I am older I understand how important it is to use my voice.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your assistant and how it affected the rest of the team. You are so right, communication really is so important! Thanks for sharing your perspective! i hope you have a nice evening! 😊

  29. Personality conflicts are common in the workplace. Seems like there was a deeper underlying issue in this scenario maybe some more personal feelings were involve. I don’t know maybe it’s just my imagination. Personally, I can work with just about anyone as long as he or she is respectful. We don’t have to be best friends, or even like each other but let’s be professional.

    1. Hi Keisha! Its very true, personality issues are all too common in the work place, unfortunately. It sounds like you’ve got a great outlook though! Thanks for adding your thoughts! Enjoy your evening! 😊

  30. I’m probably Rachael. Pretty positive that would be my character. After three years I would expect that I would be asked before I was assigned to have someone that far up in my space, especially since when I don’t want to talk, I don’t want to talk, and so I don’t. It could come across as mean to someone who is making their best effort to talk to me and who is naturally outgoing. I’d have started looking for another job once I was yelled at. At that point it would be all too much.

    1. Hi Eva! I see what you mean. Rachel is an introvert and does not like confrontations, but this probably came across as standoff-ish to Andrew, and avoidant to Chris. I agree, it would be pretty tough to keep working there after being yelled at. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Enjoy the rest of your night! 😊

  31. “Even in the most benign setting, sometimes personalities simply don’t “jive.”” so true! What a timely post as I’ve been reading this book entitled “don’t sweat the small stuff” it’s a nonfiction book on how to manage coworkers. there will always be a tendency for personalities to clash but effective communication is truly the key.

    1. That sounds like an interesting book, Steph! I’m sure we could all learn a little something about not sweating the small stuff. Thanks for stopping by, i hope your day is wrapping up nicely! 😊

    1. I agree, Jill! Being willing to compromise can go a long way! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I hope your day is off to a great start! 😊

  32. I’ve been In an office environment since I was 16 years old. I’ve learned to work with all kind of personalities. I also promise self on having a good personality as well as a girl at work ethic. A simple conversation with all parties involved should have been had immediately.

  33. One of the main reasons I knew a traditional corporate environment would not work for me. Office politics is so complicated.

    1. I completely agree, office politics aren’t fun to deal with. Thanks for stopping by Kita, i hope your day is going well so far! 😊

    1. It’s a great policy to stay away from conflict! I’m sure living by that policy has kept everything much smoother in your end 😊 hope you enjoy the rest of your day!

  34. This makes me so happy I dont work in a corporate environment. Adults many of them still can have immature mindset so it takes someone to be a mature individual and everything leaders to proper communication.

    1. I agree, maturity is important when dealing with workplace issues. Thanks for sharing your perspective. I hope your day is off to a great start! 😊

  35. That would probably have been helpful! Sounds like you’ve got lots of experience under your belt. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I hope you are having a great day! 😀

  36. I like the scenario that you’ve come up with. Personalities are so complex. Conflict often arises when we expect other people to be “like” us. There is someone I work with who is quite boisterous. And I sit next to someone who is pretty even keeled. The even keeled woman gets SO upset over the actions of the boisterous one even though their teams never interact.

    Sometimes she reacts OPENLY with a sigh or rolling her eyes. Since I am friends with the introvert, I felt comfortable warning her to be careful. That could turn into a huge, uncontrollable fire. Yes, the personality of the boisterous woman is a lot to handle. I was unnerving for me when I first started working there. But I had a “talk with myself”, and reminded myself not to judge other people. That helped me to get to know the loud woman. LOL! And you know what? She’s a sweetheart and a kind soul. Now look at what I would have missed out on.

    1. Aw there is so much wisdom here! Ola, i have tons of respect and admiration for you. It’s not easy accepting people who are different from us, or rub us the wrong way. Being able to look past those differences is hard, but can be worth it. Thanks for sharing your experience with your co-workers! I hope your day is going well so far! 😊

    1. You’re probably right Krystal, issues do come up from time to time, and we have to figure out how to deal with them! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! i hope you enjoy your evening! 😊

  37. Shared work spaces/open office designs are becoming more and more popular with employers. Not everyone will get along! My method has always been to treat it like meeting your college roommate for the first time. Discuss likes/dislikes, roles, favorite sports teams, etc. over a cup of coffee. After doing this with one of my colleagues, we came up with a schedule that allowed my introverted colleague an hour or two of peace in the morning before I got into the office. Then when she left for the day, that gave my extroverted/ADHD self some time to focus without the temptation of talking to her.

    It’s all about talking it out and figuring out how to make things work so you don’t go crazy!

    1. I like your system! It respects each person’s preferences nicely. I agree, figuring out how to make things work would prevent issues from popping up. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Enjoy your weekend! 😀

  38. I can totally relate to Rachel and didn’t like at all the way Chris handled the situation. He is very unprofessional as to let himself get carried away and yell at an employee, and without hearing her reasons first! And the other guy, seemed to me he is just being manipulative. There are people like that. I don’t think it is impossible for introverts and extroverts to get along, usually they can have symbiotic relationships, but this guy looked like he was taking advantage of the situation!

    1. I totally see what you mean. Chris could have handled the situation differently. I also agree Andrew appears to have taken advantage of the situation. Its true, introverts and extroverts may have differences, but they can totally figure out how to get along. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Cynthia! I hope you have a lovely weekend! 😊

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