Are you feeling the ‘ick’ about a workmate?

It started as a dating term in the US TV show Ally McBeal (or Ally McSqueal as we called it in our house), to describe the moment of cringing realisation during a romantic encounter, that the person sitting across the restaurant table from you, or next to you in the cinema, is actually repulsive.

Now everyone seems to be talking about the ‘ick’.

We’ve all been there – when that cute mole on the side of her cheek is suddenly revealed to be a grotesque, pulsating carbuncle. Or when he removes his shoes in front of you for the first time, and the humiliating, pungent aroma of fresh Camembert suddenly sweeps the room.

You might feel swiftly repulsed, put off or cringed-out by the person you’re dating – that’s the ick talking.

The good thing about the ick is that it usually surfaces at, or near, the start of a relationship, when it’s a fairly straightforward and painless process to deliver the bad news to the guilty party, defriend them on social media, and never think about them again.

But what happens when you suddenly get the ick in a professional setting, with someone you recently started working alongside or worse, with someone you’ve just employed?

Then it’s not so easy to admit you’ve made a mistake and have the miscreant permanently removed from your presence.

In our personal lives, unlike in business, only people who should be strenuously avoided do the equivalent of ‘due diligence’ with their putative partners, because initial attraction is impulsive and irrational, based on physical and emotional magnetism, rather than cold logic.

That’s why the early stages of a relationship can seem hyper-real, when the normal faculties which we use to engage with the world around us can appear to be disabled. And why it feels like such a hammer-blow when the newfound object of our passionate desire abruptly breaks wind in the supermarket queue or is revealed to be a neo-Nazi.

Of course, no-one wants to live a world where we could be demoted or sacked for having a bad haircut, because we spoke with our mouth full or revealed just a little too much buttock cleavage. (Although, of course, we do live in such a world.)

While there are perfectly valid reasons for ending a relationship – you have different interests, conflicting personalities or because you’re physically incompatible – what prompts the ick in a personal setting can seem arbitrary, unfair and disproportionate.

One caller told a phone-in on Radio Four’s Women’s Hour she knew she had to end it with a new boyfriend after they flew abroad together for the first time and he clapped when the plane landed.

Other people broke-up with partners who couldn’t use chopsticks, danced ‘like a drunk dad’ or because their jokes weren’t funny enough. One woman told a magazine interviewer she got the ick when she realised that her date’s hoodie and leather jacket combo was actually a two-in-one, single garment.

Of course, having a colleague with whom you don’t get on can be miserable, made worse because you didn’t choose to work with them.

Realising you’ve employed the wrong person is doubly frustrating because, as well as being stuck with an inappropriate staff member, it also shows that your recruitment process is flawed.

Having an enforceable probation period in place and hoping that the employee demonstrates their unsuitability within that period, can help, but better not to have recruited that person in the first place.

There are, of course, employees in every organisation who just can’t get along with others and who argue over the most seemingly trivial things.

At best, it can be annoying for the rest of the team. At worst, it can affect performance, contaminate morale and cause good staff to leave.

Believe it or not, as a manager, 30% of your time is likely to be taken up with conflict resolution issues. Conflicts will always be a part of the workplace and managers must manage conflict, so they need to understand why it happens.

Relationship conflict is caused by personality differences and can be difficult to deal with. Colleagues can have very different personal tastes, political preferences, values and interpersonal styles resulting in tension, annoyance and animosity.

There’s no standardised response as each source of conflict will require to be treated on its merits.

Sometimes older staff need to be reminded to think back to earlier in their careers and to try to understand what younger colleagues are thinking, feeling and doing. 

Younger staff sometimes require to think more deeply about those who came before who have years of wisdom and professional experience that smart business professionals can and should tap into.

Managing conflict doesn’t necessarily mean it should always be avoided. Organisations can miss valuable information if they always take the path of least resistance to avoid confrontation.

Clearly my ego and experience are such that I feel able to offer a few tips about how to approach conflict.

1. Monitor the build-up: As the boss you should be on top of company dynamics, keeping a close eye on how staff interact and being ready to defuse tensions when they arise.

2. Don’t pick sides: Always make sure you listen to both sides of an argument even if the balance of opinion favours one side. Do your best to improve the situation by having a clear understanding both viewpoints. 

3. Make sure rules are universal: Setting straight rules that apply to everyone is the simplest way of identifying when someone has stepped out of line. I don’t encourage meetings as a rule, but getting everyone in the same place at the same time now and again to talk about your goals and business strategy isn’t a bad idea.

4. If you have one, ensure your door is always open: Make sure your team communicates positively and shows respect to one another. As a manager you’re responsible for setting the tone so lead by example. Barriers to communication are not necessarily physical, sitting in an open plan office looking like the Wrath of God and shouting at minions over the phone makes it unlikely that anyone’s going to tell you much – up to and including the building being on fire.

6. Intervene: Only get involved when you must and make sure it’s directly related to the root cause of the conflict. Think about who you’re dealing with, most of your troops are grown-ups who are perfectly capable of managing their professional relationships. Always remember, that no matter how it looks, very few people come to work with the specific objective of annoying you.

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