Sam and Alex are joint senior partners in a professional practice. Until recently they have got on well, but lately their relationship has deteriorated. They can’t agree on anything and they irritate one another terribly. As a consequence, they stay in their own offices and keep out of each other’s way.

One of the biggest problems is when one of them has a meeting with members of the staff, the employees are expected to relay messages from that meeting to the other senior partner. In short, these two managers are acting like a separated married couple using the children as messengers.

I was initially employed by the firm on a consulting assignment to find out why staff turnover was high. I’m sure you can guess the answer.

The employees were tired of feeling they had to walk on eggshells for fear of saying the wrong thing about one senior partner to the other. They were tired of distorted information as messages morphed in translation after translation. They were tired of not being part of a collaborative team and being torn between ‘them and us’ as various members of staff took sides with Alex or Sam.

Customers were noticing the discord at the firm and stress levels were high. Many staff were actively looking for new jobs.

As an important aspect of my assignment to understand the underlying dynamics inside the firm, I spent a lot of time working with Alex and Sam to get to the bottom of their differences. And, as is often the case, the perceived original problems boiled down to poor communication.

After a fair amount of blaming, unkind words and hurt egos, they came to a common ground of understanding. They are not out of the woods completely yet, but at least they are talking to one another now and not using the staff as messengers. You will probably not be surprised that morale in the firm has begun to improve.

If you know of anyone in this situation, please mention that acting like separated parents using their children as a game of ping pong is never sensible for anyone. And at the very least, encourage them to appreciate the need to talk together in order to move forward positively.

If you’d like support to unpick a communication issue you’re facing, I offer a focused on-to-one Communication Clinic, over Skype. Contact me to find out more.