Tools & Tips

Conflicts at the Workplace – Most aren’t due to personality

Conflict happens everywhere, including in the workplace. When it does, it’s tempting to blame it on personalities.  But more often than not, the real underlying cause of workplace strife is the situation itself, rather than the people involved. So, why do we automatically blame our coworkers? Chalk it up to psychology and organizational politics, which cause us to oversimplify and to draw incorrect or incomplete conclusions…

So what’s the right approach to resolving conflicts at work?

First, look at the situational dynamics that are causing or worsening conflict, which are likely to be complex and multifaceted. Consider how conflict resolution might necessitate the involvement, support, and commitment of other individuals or teams in the organization. For example, if roles are poorly defined, a boss might need to clarify who is responsible for what. If incentives reward individual rather than team performance, Human Resources can be called in to help better align incentives with organizational goals.

Then, think about how both parties might have to take risks to change the status quo: systems, roles, processes, incentives or levels of authority.  To do this, ask and discuss the question: “If it weren’t the two of us in these roles, what conflict might be expected of any two people in these roles?” For example, if I’m a trader and you’re in risk management, there is a fundamental difference in our perspectives and priorities. Let’s talk about how to optimize the competing goals of profits versus safety, and risk versus return, instead of first talking about your conservative, data-driven approach to decision making and contrasting it to my more risk-seeking intuitive style.

Finally, if you or others feel you must use personality testing as part of conflict resolution, consider using non-categorical, well-validated personality assessments such as the Hogan Personality Inventory or the IPIP-NEO Assessment of the “Big Five” Personality dimensions (which can be taken for free here). These tests, which have ample peer-reviewed, psychometric evidence to support their reliability and validity, better explain variance in behavior than do categorical assessments like the Myers-Briggs, and therefore can better explain why conflicts may have unfolded the way they have. And unlike the Myers-Briggs which provides an “I’m OK, you’re OK”-type report, the Hogan Personality Inventory and the NEO are likely to identify some hard-hitting development themes for almost anyone brave enough to take them, for example telling you that you are set in your ways, likely to anger easily, and take criticism too personally. While often hard to take, this is precisely the kind of feedback that can help build self-awareness and mutual awareness among two or more people engaged in a conflict.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at 

Harvard Business Review

via Most Work Conflicts Aren’t Due to Personality – Ben Dattner – Harvard Business Review.

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