Conflict At Work Is Inevitable
We are spending an average of 2000 hours per year at the office, assuming you work a full time position. Work is a central part of our lives. Just like the relationships we have at home, work relationships also require care and attention. Conflict is sure to arise, no matter how amicable you believe yourself to be.
What should we do when conflict at work arises? Is it even important? After all, you are not married to these folks, right?
It’s All About Enriched Professional Development
Part of professional development is learning to thrive in the work place, regardless of milieu. Conflict is a natural part of growth – Feelings are always involved, especially when performance matters. The well rounded professional understands conflict as a necessary part of growth, both for the self, and between people, regardless of the role.
Many shy away from work place conflict by attempting to ignore the problematic co-worker. Others present themselves as conflict-prone, likely a strategy for gaining control of an inner world that feels entirely in disarray. Regardless of the pattern or intent, learning to navigate an appropriate response, is essential for success.
Personality Psychology Is The Key
The field of Personality Psychology offers many viewpoints and tools leading to a better work experience. A while back, we published an article outlining the power of interpersonal understanding through the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. In this article, we will apply that knowledge, in combination with several other personality theories sure to improve your circumstances.
The Solution Starts With You
In conflict, we have two choices: (1) Blame the other person for their interpersonal faults, or, (2) Take personal responsibility for the outcome.
A positive outcome in the work place requires you to take the first step with the following understandings:
- You see yourself, and your response, as the solution, not merely a part.
- In the end, you are responsible for how much, and at what level, you choose to engage in the conflict.
- You do not wait for the other person to have the necessary skills to meet you half-way.
- Meeting required objectives is more important than how the difficult colleague presents themselves.
One fact stand clear! Difficult co-workers rarely quit. You are stuck with them, faults and all. However, they are also stuck with you, the solution focused colleague that continually steps into the solution in order to complete what is required for the job.
There Is Power In Understanding
There are five (5) key theories from the field of Personality Psychology useful in managing relationships and conflict at the office. Each stands on their own in terms of impact when fully understood. However, having the ability to apply all five is a powerful way of creating understanding and building strategy in conflict.
While each theory requires an in-depth review to do the topic justice, we are briefly reviewing each with appropriate references to get you started.
(1) Using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI):
The Myers & Briggs mother-daughter team started their own research institute following the World War II, with a mission to create world peace. They believed in the power of interpersonal Understanding through a discussion on type.
The MBTI proposes four dichotomous elements along a continuum that the individual is placed along based on evidence-based test results. There is a resulting sixteen (16) personality types, each with a unique approach to how they view the world and themselves. The test also reveals that each of us concurrently possesses a, “shadow self,” that part of us we battle against in order to keep balance.
In the work place, the MBTI is very useful for understanding the approach of others, and how to interact therein. For instances, let’s assume the test indicates that you are an Extrovert (E). That means that you get your energy from being around others, and are often engaged in the art of, “speaking to think.”
If you are working on a project with an Introverted (I) personality type, the clash is inevitable. Introverts get their energy (recharge their batteries) through being alone. They are also known to, “think to speak,” meaning they process what they are going to say in their mind well before opening their mouth.
By having a clear understanding of your own type, you will gain insight into how to interact with others. You will easily be able to identify the types around you, thus creating a more strategic approach to communication.
(2) Understanding Dependable Strengths:
In 2000, Dr. Bernard Haldane and his wife, Dr. Jean Haldane, created the, “Dependable Strengths Foundation,” formalizing their mission to help those preparing for the world of work. As part of their unique career counselling process, they help clients identify their, “dependable strengths,” or, skills they already posses, matching that to prospective training and/or employment.
Each of us possesses a set of strengths that helps us excel at work. One might be, “attention to detail,” or, “conscientiousness.” Understanding the dependable strength of others is a powerful way to create appreciation and understanding. When you reflect a dependable strength that you observe in a colleague, they feel validated, even appreciated, by your simple acknowledgement.
(3) Put Your Colors To Work:
The “Color Code,” is a personality test similar to the MBTI. The test is available online and in-person. Color Code is widely used throughout industry, and is a ubiquitous part of conversation with teams that have gone through the process.
Results place individuals within the following color scheme – Blue, Yellow, Red, and White. Your profile notes a combination of colors from primary to secondary, describing your approach to processing information and interacting with others. Specifically, “Blue” folks are known for their focus on intimacy. If you are dominant “Red,” you like to get things done. White people are peace people (…staying calm in conflict). Yellow personalities live life in the moment.
Understanding your “color” and that of others, provides mutual understanding of individual contributions for achieving mutual work place goals. It really does take a village!
(4) Know The Big Five (5) Framework:
Unlike other approaches to personality typology, the Big 5 holds the position that personalty is endogenous in nature. Some researchers assert that it even falls along gender lines.
The Big Five (5) are: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism, with the standard acronym being, “OCEAN.” They are believed to be the core personality traits seen across the population. Each dimension sits on a continuum of average to extreme. Any dimension identified as extreme is considered maladaptive.
You might agree that the Big Five (5) does not provide an avenue for change, especially with an understanding that the theory is based on inherent factors. It is important to view the five traits from your own self-assessment – I would avoid viewing others through this lens. For instance, understand that your own agreeableness is a double edged sword. Too much or too little is not functional for problem solving.
(5) The Mystery of Group Dynamics:
The fifth conceptualization to consider is understanding how groups interact in a structured setting. Bruce Tuckman’s research identified five dynamic stages seen in every group when presented with a common problem. These are: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning.
If you stand back and observe, you will notice that groups go through this dynamic process over time. It is a natural process outside of the awareness of the group. It is also interesting to note that groups tend to run from Forming to Adjourning relatively quickly. However, this assumes that that the group size is between 3 and 12 people, and that toxicity is not a prominent theme of any one individual.
Understanding group dynamics helps you view problem solving as a process. Decisions take time and are filled with complicated interactions leading to the end result.
The Impossible Toxic Personality
In the end, no degree of understanding or strategic communication, will improve all collegial relationships. This must be acknowledged. However, regardless of the outcome after your efforts, you remain the professional, even in such enduring circumstances.
This is a reality of life – Not everyone can be nurtured in our direction. Nor should that be the goal from the onset. People with maladaptive interpersonal approaches are rewarded every day by how others respond to their style. You can be assured that your response is what remains important, regardless of the outcome.
Communication Focused Episode
A while back, we published an episode on the “Finding My Psych Podcast,” reviewing a series communication strategies useful at home and work. If you want a targeted in-depth understanding of skills designed to decrease conflict and improve relationships, this is the episode to catch! Also, do not forget to subscribe, rate, and review our show!