The particular causes of office conflict are infinite, but the roots from which conflicts arise are more common. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone just accepted the fact that my way is the best way? Probably not, but the simple truth is that will never happen. Different perspectives and opinions are inevitable, and effective innovators wouldn’t have it any other way. Sometimes, the value placed on differing views and constructive conflict are so high, that team members are instructed to take on the roles of “pot-stirrers” and “devil’s advocates” – regardless of their agreement with popular opinion – just to stoke imagination and creativity around certain topics. The first step to transforming conflict into creativity is to embrace the concept of conflict as a sign of promise, not destruction. The next step is to proactively plan for conflict – through agreements and training. But what are the causes of conflict in the workplace? We’ve mentioned a few in previous posts, but here are four more to consider:
Personal style, management style, communication style, collaboration style…For every exhibited behavior, there is an individual expression, or style, of that behavior. There is also a high probability that any particular style is bound to rub someone somewhere the wrong way. Of course, the advantages of a broad style spectrum within an organization far outweigh the occasional irritations. It is critical to not only recognize differing styles, but demand them. Of course, not all styles are necessarily created equal. For example, if a manager’s leadership style is to bark commands, deliver only limited negative feedback, and undervalue the team – well, that’s bad. Typically, the best way to handle a conflict based on style differences is to decide if someone else’s style is toxic, or just different. Once you’ve diagnosed the difference as the latter, employ healthy doses of communication and genuine curiosity.
Values lie at the very core of our beings. From our values, behaviors, styles, and decisions flow. The manager who most values diversity will react differently to situations than the manager who most values uniformity. Both values are valid, and contain merit – but fundamental value differences can lead to conflict. The first step to capitalizing on value differences is to be clear about your own values, and be able to recognize when an issue is based on values rather than just, say, stubbornness. That team member who is always the first one out the door at five o’clock? Is that team member hitting the door right away because he or she can’t wait to escape the office, or is it simply a result of high family or time-commitment values?
Everybody wants something different. On a project, this can lead to frustration. If the goal, for example, is to build a bridge, one person may want to build the most beautiful bridge ever, another may aim for the strongest, and yet another may just want a suitable bridge that comes in under-budget. The trick isn’t to alter goals, but incorporate and benefit from the differences. Not all goals are instantly obvious, or project-related. The company’s chief technician may aspire for a senior management role, and the accountant may dream of opening a hair salon. Aligning these goals with those of the organization (even when the long-term goal is to leave the organization), increases engagement in the moment, and is still an advantage to the organization.
4. External Circumstances
Not every conflict situation is the result of internal processing and expression. Sometimes we just have bad days. Sometimes a key employee gets terribly ill at the worst possible time. Sometimes we have teenagers at home. Life is a series of surprises and challenges that manifest themselves in every facet of our daily routines. When outside forces affect an individual’s typical behavior and lead to conflicts in the workplace, empathy is the best tactic. Recognize the source of the issue – even if that just means to recognize that it is an external circumstance – and extend some patience and compassion.