Conflict: Communication and Perception

In this third installment of my blog series on conflict in the workplace, I’m going to talk about communication and how it can contribute to or ameliorate conflict. There are three fundamental communication styles:

  1. Nonassertive
  2. Assertive
  3. Aggressive

Each of us has a preference, and we’re capable of switching to another, as appropriate.

We are sometimes unaware, however, of how others perceive us. You may think you’re being appropriately assertive, but a more sensitive or resentful coworker may perceive you to be aggressive.

Add to the mix gender differences, our personal agendas, and it’s easy to see how communications breakdown and breed conflict. I see this happen all the time in organizations. It’s hard to know how we come across with the language and tone of voice we’re so accustomed to using.

How Executives Contribute to Conflict

Executives contribute to conflict by communicating ambiguously, either intentionally or unintentionally.

Most of us want to avoid conflict, but we can sometimes “talk out of both sides of our mouths” and give mixed messages. Such ambiguous communication fosters an organizational climate that discourages commitment (at best) and promotes conflicts (at worst).

I’m not saying executives do this on purpose (although some do). But highly educated people are skilled in the language of diplomacy and often try to address the needs and desires of a wide audience. In trying to please everyone, they craft message that border on double-speak.

This is more of an explanation but not a rationalization and it certainly isn’t a good excuse.

Leaders need to be more direct, frank and clear. I’d like to see more executives stand up and remove the barriers to candor. Why don’t more of them tell it like it really is?

Many executives are sitting too close to the blackboard to see their communication errors. An unbiased professional coach or consultant can spot weaknesses and help correct approaches that contribute to conflict.

Peer coaching can also be a valuable tool in helping leaders to address conflict and make changes to their communication styles. If peer coaching is of interest to you, I am accepting applications for the ExecuLink™ forum until September 15th.

How Organizations Contribute to Conflict

Several conditions make a workplace fertile ground for conflict:

  1. If an organization has a rigid hierarchical structure, with anauthoritarian leadership culture, expect incessant arguments and a robust rumor mill. In this type of environment, open communications are discouraged.
  2. Is there a poorly instituted reward/promotional system, where unfair favoritism occurs?
  3. When managers are forced to compete for limited resources, their agendas can prevent them from getting along with others. They become more concerned with their personal or departmental gains and forget about the organization’s overall well-being.
  4. Change itself can destabilize relations because people struggle when they’re forced out of their comfort zones. Companies involved in mergers and/or acquisitions, for example, experience more conflict. Rapidly changing environments create a ripe atmosphere for stress, anxiety and conflict.

What do you think about these possible sources that create more conflict instead of helping people do their work in the best possible environment? Tweet your thoughts to me!

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