Even top-level executives are humans first, and when emotions run high among upper-level management, it can be hard to prevent the tension from leaking into the day-to-day workplace.
Whether your executive team is squabbling over a particular issue, or they’re just composed of strong personalities that seem to contradict one another, presenting a united front to employees in times of managerial turbulence is essential.
Why does unity matter?
With power comes conflict. It’s the principle that inspired the concept of “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.” And, while advancement is something everyone strives for, a study published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes suggests that low-power teams outperform high-power teams due to the presence of less conflict.
So, a conflict between higher-ups is practically inevitable. That doesn’t mean it should be notorious, however. When employees get a sense of tension between their managers and supervisors, it sets a negative tone for their morale. Firstly, it can be mentally draining for employees when they get roped into the conflict. Secondly, it harms morale by conveying instability and a lack of professionalism.
Even in the face of conflict, adept managers will be able to keep their emotions toward each other at bay for the sake of employee satisfaction and company welfare.
There are some controversial and unpopular policies that are sure to cause a lot of blowbacks. In these cases, some managers may want to distance themselves, especially if they actually privately disagree with said policies.
Bad-mouthing the policies and leadership methods of fellow managerial members will always lead only to further unrest among your employees. One way for C-level and other executives to handle this kind of situation is for them to state something as simple as: “Not everyone agrees with X, but this is what we are going to try, and all of your supervisors and managers are tasked with ensuring we give it an honest shot.”
Think of a lower-level manager saying the following to an employee, “I wasn’t too happy when I heard they installed social media site-blockers either. But when I heard how much time everyone was wasting every day on those sites, I was like wow, I kind of saw management’s point. So yeah, for now, we’ll just give it a shot and see how it goes.”
The above reaction is far more subtle – and will ultimately be more effective – than a manager relaying their distaste for a policy to employees strictly due to personal conflicts or vendettas.
Toxic behavior tends to occur in workplaces when disgruntled employees and managers don’t have a proper outlet for their concerns. Offering easy-to-schedule mediation sessions for your upper-level employees provides them with a place to air their grievances so that it doesn’t leak into their day-to-day work life.
Without this, managers may use employees as their sounding board, and this can contribute to a company culture of gossip and hostility. Ultimately, managers still set an example for employees, and an unprofessional manager is only sure to encourage that culture in lower-level employees.
Much like maintaining civility, exercising discretion is about watching what you’re saying – and to whom you’re saying it. Certain managerial discussions simply should not leave the executive meeting room. Even managers who are close to their lower-level employees must create boundaries when it comes to discussing manager-manager conflicts.
One way to do this is by having practiced, friendly responses to employee prompt for further information about managerial conflicts, such as:
- “I know it’s sort of the talk of the office, but it’s better for everyone’s well-being if we leave it between those involved.”
- “I’m not too sure of the details myself, and I think it’s better if I come off uninformed than to spread false gossip.”
- “I think the managerial staff appreciates the same level of privacy we all do, so let’s leave this topic out.”
- “Don’t worry about it, for now, if any major changes occur (as a result of this conflict), we’ll make sure everyone is made aware. Until then, we can all just continue what we’re doing.”
Emotional outbursts can occur – even among seasoned executives – but having these practiced replies handy will make it much easier to keep them at bay. Although it may feel like a shut-down to your employees, you can always make it clear that the discretion is for the sake of their mental and emotional well-being. Ultimately, they will be grateful you looked out for their peace-of-mind – and they’ll probably respect your calm, cool, and collected demeanor.
Most importantly, when employees realize their managers are effective at exercising discretion regarding managerial conflicts, they’ll feel more comfortable approaching them about their own conflicts.
Minding proper channels
Like everything, there is a time and place for conflicts amid upper management. In order to spare your employees the details of management-level skirmishes, it’s critical that any potentially hostile sentiments be reserved for mediation sessions with a human resources representative, as opposed to in front of staff or via e-communication.
Any meetings between managers that are committed to solving the problem should take place behind closed doors. Even when employees are unaware of the conflict at hand, the tension between two managers can be telling enough.
Similarly, it’s best for resolutions and mediation sessions to take place outside of work hours so that bickering managers don’t take their complicated emotions back to their staff for the remainder of the workday. Respecting the “time and place” rule is one of the simplest, yet most essential strategies, for continuing to present a united front to your staff.
As soon as employees are alerted to some form of hostility between two upper-level employees, the company’s reliable façade can begin to crumble. Inevitably, employees can become like friends, and it may be tempting to clue them into your tiffs with your business partner or co-manager. This is one aspect best left unshared, however, as it can lead to a spread of misinformation that causes the conflict to deepen – and employees to feel insecure.