As a people manager, there are times when I feel like a referee for grade three kids. You don’t just get normal work problems to handle. Sometimes you mediate odd disputes.
On one of my admin teams, my employees sat with their desks in rows and no cubicle walls in between them. This allowed everyone to just turn in their seat when they wanted to ask a co-worker a question or shoot the breeze. Sometimes this made my employees too close for comfort.
One morning an employee, Terry, came to my desk to complain that Dave, the employee who sat in front of her, kept pushing her in-trays back when he turned to talk to her. She said each time she’d move them back he would turn around and push them when he started conversation. She was very upset and wanted this to stop.
Really, this was the expert managing they hired me for?
I asked Terry if Dave was moving them on purpose. She said no, he just seemed to lean against them when he talked, but it drove her crazy and could I please ask him to stop. I then asked Terry if she had ever said anything to Dave about this. No, she didn’t want to start an argument. Clearly not one of my more assertive employees. Dave was a pussy cat.
I decided this was just too silly a dispute to have an actual conversation with Dave. Some employees feel that any “talking to” means they are in trouble and that wasn’t the impression I wanted to convey. He might have also been annoyed that Terry bypassed him to tattle to me.
I thought about it briefly and came up with a solution. I gave Terry an entire pack of sticky tack from our supply cabinet and suggested she use it along the bottom of her trays. She did. It worked like a charm. When Dave leaned over her desk, he could no longer move the trays without giving them a good shove. Terry was overjoyed. Sometimes managing people really is that simple.