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When co-workers can’t get along

Julie A. Aarup, office administrator at the Michigan firm Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, had a problem that many office managers face: contrary co-workers. But rather than trying to mediate, Aarup treated the dueling duo to lunch—with a condition. Problem solved.

Twice during my nearly 21 years at Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, I had a problem with two coworkers who simply could not seem to work together or agree on anything.

It seemed hopeless because they were all “stubborn” in their own way and refused to see any good in the other person.

So, on both occasions (which were about 12 years apart), I gave the two of them some money out of petty cash and sent them to a nice restaurant together for lunch. I instructed them to find some common ground and, in so doing, find a way to work together companionably. I told them not to return until they had found some mutually agreeable solutions and to come to my office upon their return and share their resolutions with me. I implied that a workable solution was paramount to their continued employment in their current positions.

In both cases, they used the time to learn things about each other that they didn’t know previously. In so doing, they found several shared interests and likable (and admirable) qualities in each other. And they became a team because they shared the goal that they both needed the relationship to work.

When they returned and sat down with me, they each pointed out good qualities the other person possessed and tended to both take responsibility for the previous problems, agreeing that they could each do better. Together, they recognized that team members cover for each other instead of keeping score against each other.

They didn’t become best friends in either case; but they didn’t have to. All they needed was to have a mutual respect and understanding.

After those lunches, we had no future problems in either case, so the money was well spent.

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