How to Shut Down Your Office Shark Tank

BY Kathy Crosett
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Shark tank. Those are two words you don’t want associated with your company culture. But, that’s exactly what will happen if you don’t take steps to shut down employee feuds. Navigating this territory successfully is tricky. Insights from Kellogg School of Management professor Cynthia Wang and her team can help.

Workplace Conflict

We all like to think that we’re above getting into conflicts in the workplace and creating shark tanks. However, sooner or later, an individual will learn how to push your buttons. What matters is your reaction. And, as a manager, your reaction teaches your team members about what you expect. Model the kind of behavior you want to see in your organization. If you frown on employees gossiping about each other, don’t gossip yourself. 

The truth is that workplace conflict always involves at least two individuals. The trouble starts when one employee does something to provoke another. Acts of aggression typically lead to equal reactions. If an employee takes someone’s reserved parking space, they can expect that their parking space will be taken on a different day, in retaliation. When the offending person is in a management role, the employee will be less likely to retaliate in the same way. They may, instead, take passive aggressive action, like deliver an important report after the stated deadline. The point is, this cycle of bickering distracts from getting work done and can easily spiral out of control, turning the office into a shark tank.

Management Action

Don’t expect your employees to work out the situation themselves. Managers should talk to the employees involved as soon as they become aware of a shark tank problem. Mediate the dispute until these team members can work successfully together. 

To demonstrate your commitment to a positive work culture, publicly praise team members who work well together and get the job done. 

Be mindful that a small percentage of employees will exhibit toxic behavior in the workplace. Hiring managers will want to do their best to keep these employees out of their organization to prevent the creation of a shark tank. One way to accomplish that goal is to use an assessment tool like SalesFuel COACH Candidate Profiles

You should also consider investing in a sales manager training program. All too often, organizations promote their best sales reps into a management position. And while the rep may understand how to sell, they don't always understand how to manage office politics and how to shift the negative energy from a conflict into positive action that is focused on the core business activity. Specialized training can help your new sales manager learn how to handle these situations.