Organizations Contribute to Conflict Too!

Several conditions make a workplace fertile ground for conflict:


  1. If an organization has a rigid hierarchical structure, with an authoritarian leadership culture, expect incessant arguments and a robust rumor mill. In this type of environment, open communications are discouraged.
  2. Is there a poorly instituted reward/promotional system, where unfair favoritism occurs?
  3. When managers are forced to compete for limited resources, their agendas can prevent them from getting along with others. They become more concerned with their personal or departmental gains and forget about the organization’s overall well-being.
  4. Change itself can destabilize relations because people struggle when they’re forced out of their comfort zones. Companies involved in mergers and/or acquisitions, for example, experience more conflict. Rapidly changing environments create a ripe atmosphere for stress, anxiety and conflict.


What do you think about these possible sources that create more conflict instead of helping people do their work in the best possible environment? I’d love to hear your comments. 

The Executives Contribution to Conflict

Executives contribute to conflict by communicating ambiguously, either intentionally or unintentionally.


Most of us want to avoid conflict, but we can sometimes “talk out of both sides of our mouths” and give mixed messages. Such ambiguous communication fosters an organizational climate that discourages commitment (at best) and promotes conflicts (at worst).


I’m not saying executives do this on purpose (although some do). But highly educated people are skilled in the language of diplomacy and often try to address the needs and desires of a wide audience. In trying to please everyone, they craft message that border on double-speak.


This is more of an explanation but not a rationalization and it certainly isn’t a good excuse.


Leaders need to be more direct, frank and clear. I’d like to see more executives stand up and remove the barriers to candor. Why don’t more of them tell it like it really is?


Many executives are sitting too close to the blackboard to see their communication errors. An unbiased professional coach or consultant can spot weaknesses and help correct approaches that contribute to conflict.

Communication Styles

There are three fundamental communication styles:

  1. Nonassertive
  2. Assertive
  3. Aggressive


Each of us has a preference, and we’re capable of switching to another, as appropriate.


We are sometimes unaware, however, of how others perceive us. You may think you’re being appropriately assertive, but a more sensitive or resentful coworker may perceive you to be aggressive.


Add to the mix gender differences, our personal agendas, and it’s easy to see how communications breakdown and breed conflict. I see this happen all the time in organizations. It’s hard to know how we come across with the language and tone of voice we’re so accustomed to using.

Conflict Stems from 3 Sources

In my experience working with organizations, there are three factors behind most organizational conflicts:

  1. Differences in behavior and communication styles
  2. Differences in priorities and values
  3. Workplace conditions, including poor communications from leaders

Some personalities just seem to clash. It’s important to determine why two people rub each other the wrong way. Do they have opposing behavioral styles?

For example, an extrovert who is open and expressive could view an introvert as hard to read and perhaps untrustworthy. Likewise, a time-conscious, highly organized employee may harshly judge a spontaneous colleague. Someone who is highly analytical and precise might view an intuitive person as impulsive and flaky.

Teaching team members to understand basic human differences can help them overcome tendencies to judge and make assumptions. They can learn to accept coworkers’ differences. Consider using any of the commonly accepted assessment tools, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), another personality inventory or 360-degree feedback.

Workshops provide another option. An extrovert can learn to ask questions to draw out an introvert. The highly organized team member can learn to set more realistic deadlines.

Understanding personality differences can help prevent clashes and conflicts before they become ongoing problems.

I offer several options for learning about personalities in the workplace to help deal with differences and conflicts.

Expectations and Assumptions

People have different needs, values, beliefs, assumptions and cultural frameworks. Our expectations are fed by past experiences. If you erroneously assume that others are essentially mirror images, your lack of clarity can create strife.


Leaders and teams must explore others’ expectations, assumptions, underlying values and priorities. This can be accomplished in group or individual sessions, led by a manager or coach.

When there is an elevated degree of conflict, it’s wise to retain a professional who is trained in interpersonal skills and mediation.


Behind every complaint is an underlying value that goes unsatisfied. Asking questions like “What’s really important here?” often allows people to uncover competing values and priorities. You will facilitate more authentic conversations when you ask the right questions.


What do you think about these ideas? What do you see as a major source of conflict in your organization? I’d love to hear from you.

Do You Manage Conflict or Does Conflict Manage You?

When conflict is ignored—especially at the top—the result will be an enterprise that competes more passionately with itself than with its competitors.”— Howard M. Guttman, When Goliaths Clash, 2003


Leaders spend an inordinate amount of time putting out fires, particularly interpersonal ones. Some say at least 20 percent of their time is consumed by managing conflict. Productivity decreases even further when coworkers ruminate over arguments and disagreements.


As long as Western culture values democratic processes and individual freedoms, some teams will encourage debate. This may not be a bad thing, as innovative ideas often spring from those who refuse to “go along just to get along.”


Therefore, conflict should be neither suppressed nor ignored within a team. When it goes unnoticed, it will worsen and invite interpersonal stress. Eliminating conflict is not the answer, and teams that take this approach are also doomed to fail.


Trend analysts predict workplace conflicts will rise because people face increased pressure to produce more and better with fewer resources. Job insecurity, a fluctuating economy, the stress of technological advancements, and an epidemic of outsourcing and downsizing are putting today’s work force on edge.


There is a strong link between the ability to resolve conflict and one’s perceived effectiveness as a leader. According to research from the Management Development Institute of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, effective managers resolve conflicts by employing four key behaviors:

  1. Gaining perspective
  2. Creating solutions
  3. Expressing emotions
  4. Reaching out


Those who succeed are deemed more suitable for promotion. But most team leaders are trained in the competencies required for their careers and industries. They aren’t necessarily astute negotiators of people’s emotions and relationships.


Managed well, conflict can stimulate creativity, motivate people to stretch themselves, encourage peer-to-peer learning and help teams move beyond the status quo. Your task, as a leader, is to conduct tough conversations that help resolve most workplace conflicts.

Tough conversations are hard to have, worth having, but not worth risking poor outcomes.

That’s why I recommend working with an experienced coach. 

Making Work More Like Play (finding your flow action step 2)

Thriving at work allows you to do so at home and at play.There’s really no need to separate the two worlds, according to neuroscientist and “play researcher” Stuart Brown, MD, who describes their strong correlation in his book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul.

When you feel the temptation to complain about work, stop yourself. Rephrase what you were about to say by focusing on the more interesting parts of your day. Make an active effort to recognize and record the positive aspects of your job so you can experience more pleasure and flow.

Need help? Contact me today.

Lifelong Learning (finding your flow action step 1)

Lifelong learners are the happiest, most successful people, according to numerous research studies. Learners constantly ask questions and find a sense of wonder in the world.

Recall the wonder and enthusiasm you enjoyed at the beginning of your career. If you’ve lost some of the proverbial “lovin’ feeling” (and most people have), recapture it by initiating an education program of your choosing.

Your program should include two categories:

1.      Personal development

2.      Professional enrichment

Commit to learning material that will benefit you currently and in the future. Be sure to allocate regular time in your schedule for continuing education.

If you don’t know where to start, pick up a copy of 25 Days to Better Thinking and Better Living: A Guide for Improving Every Aspect of Your Life, by Drs. Linda Elder and Richard Paul. Read one chapter each week as part of your personal-development commitment.

For professional enrichment, seek out a mentor you trust, and ask him/her to join you for lunch. You can also hire a coach to help you improve on the job or attend a seminar on the latest developments in your field.

Think about the relationships among all of these activities. What makes them enjoyable? Is there any overlap between the personal and professional? If so, can you identify a common theme in both “work” and “play” that you enjoy?

Please leave a comment to let me know how you answered these questions!

Finding Your Flow Action Steps

Reflection and action yield meaning and energy. Harvard University Continuing Education Professor Tal Ben-Shahar combines these two powerful learning tools into one concept: “ReflAction.”

In his excellent book, Even Happier: A Gratitude Journal for Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, Dr. Ben-Shahar urges readers who seek happiness to record their experiences and ideas in a journal. In addition, work with an accountability partner to become more mindful of moments of gratitude.

Even Happier features numerous exercises that can be used in groups, book clubs, seminars or workplaces.

More tomorrow….

Finding Flow

One of the first psychologists to study the concept of “flow” was Claremont Graduate University Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Flow occurs when we are fully immersed in a task, enjoying ourselves while performing our best. It can happen anywhere, anytime. We experience it when we participate in sports and hobbies. More frequently, our flow experiences occur during periods of peak performance at work.

When we fail to recognize pleasurable moments at work, focusing solely on the negative, we miss out on experiencing more happiness and satisfaction. Each of us must find ways to extract more meaning and fulfillment from the “daily grind.”

It’s often a matter of reframing situations and changing the way we speak about our tasks and responsibilities. Other times, we can devise games and turn work into play. Some people find it helpful to ask a trusted peer to serve as an accountability partner, working toward concrete goals and milestones.

In my coaching, I can help you find your flow. Contact me for more information.

Is Work a Pain?

“In a culture that sometimes equates work with suffering, it is revolutionary to suggest that the best inward sign of vocation is deep gladness—revolutionary but true.” ~ Parker Palmer,The Courage to Teach

Do you prefer leisure to work?  Not surprisingly most people do. What is surprising is that they report more optimal feelings of being “in the zone” when engaged in work.

This strange, yet revealing, paradox may explain why so many U.S. retirees experience depression and ultimately return to work.

While we clearly associate leisure with pleasure, we seem to have an unwarranted prejudice against work: We automatically associate it with pain. This belief is so deeply rooted that it distorts our perceptions of actual experiences. It’s a learned response that severely limits our potential for happiness at work.

To achieve professional satisfaction, you must experience—and consciously record—the positive emotions you feel on the job.

What positive emotions do you feel at work?