HR Management, Talent Management

Feuding Superstars? Here’s How to Play Referee With Your Own Team

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There isn’t much news lately about the NBA, other than the whole lockout fiasco and I don’t feel like getting into that mess.

However, I happened to read that Shaquille O’Neal has just released his autobiography, and news outlets are buzzing about the fact that in the book Shaq revisits his feud with former teammate, Kobe Bryant. Apparently time does not heal all wounds.

If you’re not an NBA fan, or your memory needs refreshing, the disagreements between the superstars took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s when they both played for the Los Angeles Lakers. While these two were arguably (and I do mean arguably) at the top of their games at the time, they both had different approaches to basketball and extremely opposite personalities and work habits.

Bruised egos: a roadblock to success

As a result, the two had plenty of issues and lots of public disputes. In fact, it was so heated, that O’Neal even slapped Bryant during a pickup game. As you can image, the whole situation was fairly bizarre and unnecessarily dramatic.

Despite their obvious hatred for each other, the two did experience victories and were able to win three consecutive championships together. However, personal differences and arguments over their respective roles became one of the reasons Lakers’ management eventually sent O’Neal to the Miami Heat.

It’s obvious that an O’Neal/Bryant situation is not just limited to overpaid athletes. A study of middle and top-level executives revealed that the average manager spends about 20 percent of his or her time dealing with conflict, according to HR Magazine.

While we naively believe our high performers will naturally get along, unfortunately bruised egos can serve as a roadblock to success.

As I’m sure you are aware, a high performer is a talented worker who produces exceptional work with an abundance of motivation, and needs little assistance or guidance. On the surface they are a manager’s dream.

But don’t forget high performers are only human, and many are extremely competitive ones at that. While a healthy amount of competition can spur others to work harder, sometimes it can cause extreme hostility.

How you can play workforce referee

What you don’t want is bickering among staff to escalate into an unresolvable situation. Many times, frequent arguments among employees can cause an unwelcome distraction in productivity, produce turnovers, and in worst case scenarios, maybe even result in violence.

There is not a single solution in resolving conflict, but here are some of my suggestions on how to play referee at your workplace:

  • When attempting to solve a dispute, first focus on common goals. Try to find an area of agreement before negotiating disagreement.
  • Practice active listening skills to sort through the sources of conflict. When people feel heard, they are more likely to listen to another point of view.
  • Discuss problem situations with all parties before determining the best course of action. Seek feedback from someone else on the proposed solution before instituting it. Look for win-win solutions.
  • Examine your work processes or organizational structure to determine if reorganization might reduce stress and conflicts. Conflict is not always caused by interpersonal problems, but maybe the result of inherent structural problems.

If you as a manager take control of the situation, you might be able to get high performers to co-exist, even if they don’t personally like each other. At the very least, hopefully you won’t have to use your whistle to call a foul at the office.

Derek Murphy is CEO of TBC , a global assessment company with over four decades of experience, specializing in 360s and survey customization. Our hosting platform, TruScore®, allows you to manage all of your talent management assessments in one central location. Contact him at derek@boothco.com .