You’re working on a project that has very tight deadlines. You like to organise your time, with a step by step approach, complete the tasks early so that you have time to deal with any unforeseen circumstances and still hit the deadline. However, your colleague seems to be working on their tasks sporadically, a flexible approach reviewing new information as it arises, sometimes late at night, with no fixed timings. In order to satisfy your need you keep asking your colleague how they are getting on, and your colleague is getting increasingly frustrated with you, thinking you don’t trust them and just replies with a “it’ll be completed on time”.
This is an example of two very different approaches to work, both equally effective, but when the difference in characteristics aren’t understood, respected or appreciated, this can lead to frustration and conflict.
According to psychologists Art Bell and Brett Hart, there are eight common causes of conflict in the workplace, which can be identified and then worked through to resolve:
- Conflicting styles – as with the example above, we all have different styles and needs (as identified in tools such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator® – MBTI®)
- Conflicting perceptions – we all view the world differently, depending on our experience, knowledge, memories and values. These perceptions of events can cause conflict, as people will make up their own minds about a situation, so communication is key to avoid this.
- Different personal values – if you are asked to complete a task that conflicts with your ethical standards, conflict can arise.
- Conflicting resources eg office supplies, assistance from colleagues, office space, technical knowledge
- Conflicting goals – where there may be requests for different priorities, speed of completion, detail level, so as a manager make sure that when you request goals you are clear and considerate about other work already requested.
- Conflicting pressures – when you need urgent assistance from someone who already has tasks set with the same deadlines, try to reschedule or negotiate the deadlines accordingly
- Conflicting roles – if we are asked to perform a task outside of our normal role or responsibility this can cause power struggles, or if we are asked to do something that should be someone else’s responsibility. Communication of expectations is important to alleviate conflict.
- Unpredictable policies – confusion can occur if rules and policy changes aren’t communicated, or if policies aren’t consistent or practiced fairly across the group.
Although conflict exists, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you can handle the conflict effectively, a lot of knowledge, experience, insights and innovation can be shared by the different people involved. However, if not handled effectively teamwork can break down, deadlines missed, productivity suffers and motivation and engagement damaged.
When resolving conflict build mutual respect and put good relationships first, separate the problem from the person, listen carefully to understand the other’s position, agree the facts and objectives and explore the options together.
To develop effective communication skills, consider improving self-awareness and the knowledge of when and how to use different conflict management styles (such as the Thomas-Killman Conflict Mode Indicator™ – TKI™). Understanding your preferences (eg. MBTI) and appreciating the differences and benefits that other styles can bring is also very important to reduce conflict in the working environment.