I’d like to share an important story – one that can prevent ill feelings among co-workers, eliminate personal self-shame and embarrassment, and save a team’s progress.

Dan, Al and Helen had been working together for months, but there was always an underlying tension between them.

The project lead, Dan, was very deadline-focused while committed to making sure a job was done very well. To achieve both, he sometimes pushed Al and Helen, his team members, too hard for their comfort levels. While they too wanted to complete the project on time and to the best of their abilities, they were frustrated by Dan’s approach. (If you read my Blog on “Your Wake” you might visualize what Dan’s wake looked like behind him.)

Over the course of the project, Al and Helen had become friends, a bond largely formed due to Dan’s overly-pushy approach. As tensions were bubbling beneath the surface, they had started to share unkind dialogue back-and-forth over coffee or through a shared “chat” message.

During one particularly stressful phone meeting, Al sent Helen this message: “I feel like there is no point in us even being here. He may as well be talking to two mannequins.” Helen replied, “I know! I wonder what the point of having these meetings is when he’ll just go off and do what he wants anyway.”

Their comments continued. “Is it just me, or is his voice sounding even more annoying than usual today?” “I try to zone it out, treat it like white noise.” “Teach me how! This man has an uncanny ability to make me want to punch a wall!” “Or him?”… And so the exchange continued, becoming more and more personal.

Well, you may have already guessed what happens next. Al and Helen had mistakenly chatted on their team chat line and Dan was also receiving the correspondence. Yah, not cool.

Eventually, Dan paused and said, “Al, if you want to punch me, I’d prefer you came and talked to me about it rather than sending messages to Helen.” Dead silence met his comment at the other ends of the line.

As expected, Dan was hurt by their words. He was aware of his shortcomings, and unknown by Al and Helen, he was receiving coaching to be a better leader. The two colleagues were full of shame, the incident destroyed the team’s working relationship, and the project was delegated to a new taskforce.

As an organization, that may mean you lose high-performing, high-potential employees all due to a lack of self-awareness that creates dissension and dysfunction within a team.

We all struggle from time-to-time in meshing personalities, viewpoints, and working styles. But the way Al and Helen behaved was completely unprofessional and quite frankly, inexcusable.

I hope you will always take the high road, and never allow your behavior or words to hurt or adversely affect those you’re working with or leading. If you aren’t aware, you won’t realize there’s a problem that needs addressing until it’s too late.