The Three Sources of Conflict

In my experience working with organizations, there are three factors behind most organizational conflicts:

  1. Differences in behavior and communication styles
  2. Differences in priorities and values
  3. Workplace conditions, including poor communications from leader

Some personalities just seem to clash. It’s important to determine why two people rub each other the wrong way. Do they have opposing behavioral styles?

For example, an extrovert who is open and expressive could view an introvert as hard to read and perhaps untrustworthy. Likewise, a time-conscious, highly organized employee may harshly judge a spontaneous colleague. Someone who is highly analytical and precise might view an intuitive person as impulsive and flaky.

Teaching team members to understand basic human differences can help them overcome tendencies to judge and make assumptions. They can learn to accept coworkers’ differences. Consider using any of the commonly accepted assessment tools, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), another personality inventory or 360-degree feedback.

Workshops  provide another option. An extrovert can learn to ask questions to draw out an introvert. The highly organized team member can learn to set more realistic deadlines.

Understanding personality differences can help prevent clashes and conflicts before they become ongoing problems.

Another option that I offer is participation in the ExecuLink™ peer coaching forum. The ExecuLink™ forum is designed to offer executives from non-competitive industries meet with each other and share their experiences dealing with a wide range of challenges and conflicts. Jeff Barley, a coaching client and a participant in the forum, has this to say: “When you’re in a leadership position, sometimes you feel that you’re the only person that has a particular issue or problem… it’s always interesting to see how executives in other industries are tackling those common issues, and I get a lot of good ideas when I meet with the group because I learn how others may have solved a similar problem.”

Interpersonal conflicts can be stressful both mentally and emotionally. It’s important to share your burdens with others, and a peer coaching forum is an excellent space in which to do that safely and productively. Leaders and teams must explore others’ expectations, assumptions, underlying values and priorities. You may choose to do this in group or individual sessions, led by a manager or coach.

But when there is an elevated degree of conflict, it’s wise to retain a professional who is trained in interpersonal skills and mediation.

Behind every complaint is an underlying value that goes unsatisfied. Asking questions like “What’s really important here?” often allows people to uncover competing values and priorities. You will facilitate more authentic conversations when you ask the right questions.

What do you think about these ideas? What do you see as a major source of conflict in your organization? I’d love to hear from you.


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