Special to The Globe and Mail, Published Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016
I am caught in the middle of a dogfight between two bosses. What should I do?
THE FIRST ANSWER
Eleanor James, Personal communications consultant, James Thinkstitute, Toronto
I was once in this very position. There were 35 employees in the company and two active partners. They had separate responsibilities and equal power and it worked well for a long time. But something happened and suddenly those two men became bears with thorns in their paws, fighting all over the building.
The good thing was that we all knew what we were doing so we just carried on, avoiding consultation with them unless it was absolutely necessary. One smart thing those men did was hire well, and we all had the freedom to make decisions. That kept things going for a long time but eventually the company was shut down.
That may not work in your situation so sit down with your bosses together if you can, or separately if you must. Either way you’ll need some spine. The language you use is very important. “There is friction between you and I’m really sorry to see it. I don’t mean to interfere with that, but I do want to let you know that I’m now having trouble doing my job effectively. There are conflicting instructions [give concrete examples] and I need some clarification. We can talk about it now or set up a meeting later if you like.” See what comes of that. If nothing, go to HR and spill the beans.
THE SECOND ANSWER
Natalie MacDonald, Partner, Rudner MacDonald LLP, Toronto
Have you ever watched two dogs pulling at a stick? One pulls one way, and the other pulls the opposite way. Neither wants to give in, and neither is prepared to let go. This happens in the workplace as well, and can leave you stuck in the middle. How can you win? The only way is to ensure that you are taken out of the equation – but this is easier said than done.
In this type of scenario you have the beginning of a poisoned workplace. The first thing you should do is to ensure that you address the situation with both bosses at the same time. Before sitting down with them, it is imperative that you have concrete examples of the behaviour, and so you should keep a journal of the times and behaviour that has occurred and put you in the middle. Voicing your concerns, and providing specific instances of when and how the actions have affected you, is imperative toward working to a solution.
If there is still no change, ensure that you bring those examples, and the fact that you have attempted to work out a solution with your bosses, to HR. After your meeting with HR, capture the essence of the meeting in an e-mail, which therefore documents exactly what you attempted to do to resolve the situation.
But if nothing changes, even after discussing the matter with HR, it may be time to seek legal advice from an employment lawyer – one who can protect your rights and entitlements at both ends of the stick.