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How to Figure Out if Conflict is Due to Personality...or Something Else


Category: Personality At Work

Every workplace suffers conflict; it's unavoidable.

And this being a personality blog, we spend a lot of time blaming it on personality clashes. It's comforting to think that all we have to do to stop conflict is take a personality test, recognize each other's quirks and foibles, and make sure certain people never work together. Analyzed through the personality lens, workplace conflict doesn't seem like a big deal at all.

Yet, conflict is still playing out, in tens of thousands of workplaces up and down the country, every single day. And it's happening between people who manage to get along just fine with their friends, family members, neighbors and community groups. What gives? If people can successfully navigate personality differences outside the workplace, why does personality become such a big deal once you're inside the building?

Or could it be that personality isn't the main cause of workplace conflict after all?

And if it isn't, what's the real underlying cause of workplace strife?

Causes of Conflict in the Workplace

The reasons for conflict are nuanced, complex and might include some or all of the following factors:

Personal agendas:

Everyone has their own hopes, dreams, motivations, ambitions, income requirements and personal circumstances that operate independently of personality. For example, someone may be desperate for a bonus or a salary increase. Someone else may be desperate to avoid upsetting his colleagues. When agendas clash, conflict happens.

Mismatching values:

Organizations theorize, plan and develop processes according to their values. Conflicts occur when personal values and the company's values collide. For example, decision makers may have different ideas about hiring priorities, the allocation of resources or how quickly to expand. Staff caught in the crossfire inevitably feel the tension.

Structural issues:

The way the business is organized can be a massive source of conflict. Are job roles clearly defined? How do the various levels of authority work? Do processes hinder (rather than help) employees? Is change causing anxiety because "that's the way we've always done things"?

Cultural issues:

Whether they realize it or not, some organizations offer real incentives for people to compete rather than cooperate. If, for instance, you reward personal achievement instead of acknowledging the contributions of all members of the team, you potentially are encouraging people to walk all over each other. The same goes if you're singling people out for special mentions, failing to tackle serious allegations of bullying or scapegoating, or failing to hold people accountable for errors.

Lack of information:

An alarming number of conflicts happen because people have access to different information and thus are basing their arguments on inconsistent data sets. Often, the players have no idea that they're working from half-truths or an incomplete story.

External factors:

External factors are the wild cards that temporarily can affect people's behavior, such as medical conditions or family problems. Often, when a person is being difficult and creating conflict, he or she turns out to be under a huge amount of stress. Fix the stress, eliminate the conflict.