Workplace blogs
Workplace blogs

What Bert and Ernie Can Teach us About Conflict at Work, Guest Blog by Kelly Batke, Jostle Corporation

At some point almost all of us have had that moment in the workplace where we wanted to strangle the person sitting next to us. Getting along with everyone isn’t always easy; especially when quirks and mannerisms get in the way.

Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie are a classic example of how opposite personalities can effectively coexist in a small environment. They fought and bickered, yet they always found a way to remain friends.

Most likely in your workplace you have a Bert and Ernie. Or, maybe YOU are a Bert or Ernie. So what can we learn about conflict resolution from the colorful duo?

Balance is necessary

There is a theory that muppets (and people!) are divided into two groups: Chaos and Order. Chaos Muppets are the free spirited, emotional, and crazy ones (think Cookie Monster, Ernie, and Grover). Order Muppets on the other hand are highly regimented and adverse to surprises. This group includes Bert, Kermit the Frog, and the balding blue dude who dines at Grover’s restaurant.  The point is that too much of one personality makes for a boring and unproductive group. If you are an ‘order’ muppet, the thought of chaos probably drives you insane, but the more diverse a group is, the better its chance for success—because a workplace full of Ernies is as disastrous as a workplace full of Berts.

Don’t fear disagreements, embrace them

Within virtually every conflict is the potential for a teaching/learning opportunity. Wherever there is disagreement there is a huge opportunity for growth and development. If you’re a leader who doesn’t leverage conflict for team building, you’re missing a great opportunity. Opposing opinions addressed properly can stimulate unlimited innovation and discussion. Be a wise leader and look for the upside in all contradictory ideas.

Recognize, dont criticize differences

To some, Bert may appear as the more competent one. He seems smarter, more logical, and more willing to finish tasks. But does this make him the better employee? Not really. By contrast Ernie seems unconcerned with trivial things. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and enjoys playing pranks and having a good time. Appreciate your employees’ attributes no matter how different they are from yours. Being spontaneous is no more of a flaw than being one who plans things carefully.

Ensure your employees are in the right role

If Bert was a kindergarten teacher, waiter, or in a public facing sales role I would imagine he would fail quite miserably. Similarly Ernie would probably struggle as an IT programmer, pilot, or an accountant. In other words Bert’s perfectionism is no more a flaw than Ernie’s frivolous demeanor. Guide your employee into the role(s) that bring out their best characteristics.

At the end of the day we all work with both Berts and Ernies. We don’t want to change Ernie into Bert any more than we don’t want to change Bert into Ernie. If two opposing muppets are able to live somewhat peacefully in a confined environment, there is definitely hope for the rest of us.

Kelly Batke,  Director of Marketing, Jostle Corporation,


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