Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

by : 
Kim Perkins
January 1, 2011

Question: I have two employees who absolutely cannot get along with each other. Both of them have valuable attributes and offer much to the store. Over the past few months, I have repeatedly tried to find solutions and counsel each of them about ways to work together harmoniously. Age may be a factor. The older, male employee, who is an assistant supervisor and a great salesperson, has been with us longer, and the younger female, who comes with lots of experience, has a hard time following certain rules. Their disagreements really came to a head when I was away recently, and harsh words were exchanged. My solution was to ask them to get together to see what they could do to create harmony and move forward. She is open to the suggestion, but he is just “over it” and resistant to meeting with her. I am ready for this horrible tension to vanish! What do I do?

Answer: You have already done much of what I would do in your shoes. At this point, I would stop talking and problem solving and tell them both their jobs are at stake. In other words, they need to be adults and maturely figure out a solution, or they both go.

Both of them have overstepped their bounds, at least by my standards. They need either to get it together and stop the tension totally, or they go. The tension you describe is uncomfortable for everyone and bad for business because customers pick up the vibes. If they want their jobs, and those jobs are contingent on being professional at work, they will find a way to work it out. If not, you will be able to see who is not stepping up to the plate and who is really making an effort.

I would call a meeting, let them know what’s up, and then schedule another meeting for two weeks out. Unless something dire happens, you do not want them (or anyone on your staff) embroiled in the drama. They have to handle it. If they can’t, then I would find two people who can.

I know you have a lot invested in training, and it’s important to have seasoned employees, but nothing is worth this kind of distress. Your store is a healing space with a mission to assist others, and you are the steward of that space. It is your responsibility to make changes to bring balance back to your store.

Kim Perkins is co-owner of Elysian Fields Books & Gifts for Conscious Living (, an award-winning store in Sarasota, Fla. Send your retail questions to