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Five Sources of Conflict

Five Sources of Conflict

Some people will avoid conflict at all costs — taking whatever lumps thrown their way in the name of peace and harmony. Some people are conflict creators — consciously throwing a hand grenade in the middle of the conference table to see what will happen (what they can make happen!). In the middle are the people who don’t necessarily like conflict but given the right set of circumstances will pick up their virtual arms and engage. Here are the five most common triggers for conflict in the organization — especially these middle of the roaders.

  1. You gored my ox

Human beings are hard wired to be protective of what they consider to be their own. In the business world it can be anything that is perceived to be scarce — resources, turf, access, even physical space.

Gore their ox and you will have conflict. It might be guerrilla warfare, subtle and behind your back or the conflict might bloom into open warfare where it is evident to everyone.

  1. Disappointment or That Was Supposed To Be Mine

One of the toughest emotions to process is the disappointment of broken promises. Dash expectations and you can expect a strong negative reaction which can trigger conflict. This kind of conflict has legs — people tend to hold on to the memory and pull it out as a reminder of how they were wronged. Ironically, this kind of conflict can be transferred. People not involved originally can make the story apocryphal, using it as evidence that the organization does not care about employees or mistreats them or does not keep promises.

  1. It isn’t personal — NOT

In the workplace, nothing is personal. HA! When someone says it “isn’t personal” it usually is. Moving you out of your big office to a smaller one — not personal, just “someone else is more entitled to the space.” Reorganization taking away your clients — not personal, “just following the market trends.” Changing responsibilities and reducing yours — not personal, “just increases efficiency.” Except that it is all personal. It is your reputation, your career, your compensation and when those are threatened, conflict occurs.

  1. Shotgun Marriages

I don’t have to like you just because we work together. . . and I don’t.

It would be grand if people in the same workplace sandbox all played nicely together. Management’s theory is people are grown-ups and they can work on a project effectively even if there is animus in the space. Conflict grows out of this because when people do not like each other, that disaffection becomes the lens through which everything they do is viewed. New ideas — how dumb. Feedback — who cares. Teamwork — you have to be kidding.

  1. Excuuuuse Me, But That Idea was Mine

Idea stealing is probably the most common conflict trigger. It shows up everywhere. Sometimes it is the restated comment in a meeting that gets noticed, not the initial comment or commenter. Data show that women in particular are often the ignored participant. Sometimes it is more underhanded, taking someone else’s innovative approach up the chain of command before they can or without them knowing. And sometimes it’s just blatant theft for anyone to see and hear. The challenge of this acknowledged thievery is to lean in to the conflict rather than go passive. First of all, just slinking off to lick your wounds will change nothing and implicitly declare open season on your ideas, innovations and approaches. Second, standing up for yourself, acknowledging the conflict is not only more authentic but it is also an expression of your agency. Don’t fight this kind of fire with its own kind of backroom fire — rather take a stand, own your idea, and disrupt the conversation. It might not be comfortable — in fact we can pretty much guarantee it won’t be, but this is not the time to be conflict avoidant.

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