Steering Clear of Bad Blood in the Office

February 17, 2015

by Beverly Flaxington

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Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.

Dear Bev,

Two of our advisors openly dislike each other. One of them keeps to himself and doesn’t involve us, but the other is always trying to get us to say something bad or agree with her perspective on our mutual colleague. At this point, we avoid drinking our coffee in the break room for fear of running into her. I know you will probably say that we should stand up to her but she is very aggressive. We are afraid if we ignore her completely, we may be the next ones on her “bad list.” Is there a graceful way to steer clear of this whole situation? I have teenagers and there is enough angst at home already. I really don’t want to deal with it in my office, too. Please use only my initials.

S. R.

Dear Advisor:

It is amazing how other people’s bad behavior can have such a negative impact on us! That said, we can control how we react and respond. While it can be difficult to survive and thrive in the atmosphere you describe, it’s not impossible. You don’t need to diagnose the source of their dislike or take sides in order to work effectively. It sounds like avoiding them isn’t a good solution either, so I would opt for ignoring.

What would happen if the rest of you agreed to pretend that everything is fine? For example, you walk into the break room and your colleague starts to disparage the other colleague. You might say something like, “Oh you two crack me up. I know you really like each other” and then walk out. Or you might say, “Are you sure deep down you don’t really admire (name)? You spend so much time talking about his/her weaknesses, we’re beginning to think you really want to be like him/her!” Say these things with a smile and then leave. If all of your colleagues do this, I believe the statements would stop.

As far as avoiding the “bad list,” I’m afraid there is no guarantee you can do this. People who engage in this type of behavior usually do it out of insecurity or a need for attention. Unless they become very self-reflective and see how their behavior is impacting the rest of the advisory firm, they will likely pick another target. If you can all band together, hopefully you can at least minimize the impact.

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