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Managing Conflict in the Workplace

Mar 04, 2020

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Part 1: Managing Conflict

Three Big Reasons.

According to the late expert Richard Hackman, only 25 percent of teams utilize effective processes such as coordination and communication, and nearly 60 to 70 percent fail to achieve their objectives in any given project or situation. The culprit? Team members consistently point to internal conflict. Three factors giving rise to internal conflict are:

• Identity incongruity refers to the differing — or clashing — personalities, experiences and values that shape expectations. It is important to understand the extent to which incongruent personal identities drive conflicts. These kinds of disagreements are often the most difficult to solve because we perceive that values we hold deeply are under attack. For example, I once worked around a person that was extremely directive and task-focused and another person that was the exact opposite. The result was the task-focused person constantly complained that his coworker was too laid back and the easy-going employee complained that her coworker was domineering and a micro-manager.

• Role incongruity is driven by situations in which role relationships between team members are unclear, or in which roles do not capitalize on member strengths. Conflict tends to intensify when members have interdependent tasks but incompatible roles or when individuals within and outside the team have conflicting goals resulting in mismatched priorities. For example, in an organization, the overall goal of the company was to increase earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (commonly abbreviated EBITDA). However, the sales department’s primary goal was to increase revenue (at all costs). These two conflicting goals created a huge incompatibility where everyone besides sales were looking for ways to cut costs to increase overall company EBIDTA.

• Environmental stress is another major source of conflict. The business world is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (abbreviated as VUCA). Scarce resources, along with tight budgets and deadlines, are likely to cause disputes that pit team members against one another and create false competition. For example, scores of examples exist about the rivalry between and often incompatible goals that exist between certain departments. The type of rivalry only intensifies when organizational departments are pitted against one another. For example, I once worked for a large organization where sales and marketing focused on revenue generation and the information technology department was focused on cost containment. In almost every meeting I can remember, conflict was present.

While intra-office conflicts are inevitable to some degree, the good news is, they don’t have to become destructive. In next month’s article, Dr. Sal will offer six strategies to head off conflict before it turns nasty.

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