Knowing the source of conflict is one of the first steps to dealing with it effectively. It’s easy to blame communication as the source of conflict, but it’s not always the case.
In fact, it usually isn’t. For example, communication is the source of conflict when styles get in the way, or there are misunderstandings about intent. Communication is not the source of conflict when it’s things like how your group is structured, personality clashes, or conflict in values.
In my experience, you can reduce conflict by taking away the threats, creating shared goals, and creating more effective boundaries and interactions as needed. For situations, you can learn to adapt, adjust or avoid, as well as shift tense to reduce conflict. I also like John Wooden’s advice here, which is basically, it’s OK to disagree, just don’t be disagreeable.
In the book, The Truth About Managing People…And Nothing But the Truth, author Stephen P. Robbins writes about analyzing sources of conflict.
Key Take Aways
Here are my key take aways:
- Communication is not the real cause of most conflicts. More conflicts tend to come from structural relationships and personal differences.
- Structural relationships can create conflict. When groups have competing goals, that’s a setup for conflict. When people face scarcity of resources, turf wars happen. Reporting structures can shift ownership, influence, and authority around in ways that can create conflict.
- Personality clashes can create conflict. This is a case where tolerance and thinking techniques can help, but at the end of the day, some people just don’t like each other.
- Differences in values can create conflict. You want one thing, somebody else wants another. This is a fairly common source of conflict.
- Too much communication can cause conflict. While too little communication cause cause conflict, too much communication can cause conflict too.
Structural Relationships Can Create Conflict
Diverse goals within and across groups can create conflict. Robbins writes:
“Organizations create job descriptions, specialized work groups, jurisdictional borders, and authority relationships – all with the intent to facilitate coordination. But in so doing, they separate people and create the potential for conflicts. For instance, departments within organizations have diverse goals. … When groups within an organization seek diverse ends, some of which are inherently at odds, there is increased potential for conflict.”
Personality Clashes Can Create Conflict
Some personalities just don’t get along. Robbins writes:
“Did you ever meet individuals to whom you took an immediate disliking? Most of the opinions you disagreed with. Even insignificant characteristics – the way they cocked their head when they talked or smirked when they smiled – annoyed you. We’ve all met people like that. And many of us have to work with people like this; people whose values or personality clash with our own.”
Differences in Values Can Create Conflict
Conflict in values is a common source of interpersonal conflicts. Robbins writes:
“So, not surprisingly employees differ on the on the importance they place on general values such as honesty, responsibility, equality and ambition. They also differ on job-related values such as the importance of family over work or freedom versus authority. These differences often surface in work-related interactions and create significant interpersonal conflicts.”
Too Much Communication Can Create Conflict Too
It’s called over-communicating for a reason. Robbins writes:
“The evidence actually demonstrates that the potential for conflict increases when there is too much communication as well as when there’s too little. Apparently, an increase in communication is functional up to a point, whereupon it’s possible to over-communicate. Too much information as well as too little can lay the foundation for conflict.”
When Managing Conflict, Look at the Source
Rather than just blame poor communication, look for other potential sources of conflict. Robbins writes:
“So when you’re trying to manage conflicts, take a thoughtful look at their source. It’s more likely that the conflict is coming from work-imposed requirements, dissimilar values, or personality differences than it is from poor communication. And that might influence the actions you take to resolve the conflict.
What’s worked for you in dealing effectively with conflict?”
Best Books on Communication and Conflict
Here are some relevant books that I think really help in terms of dealing with conflict:
- The Truth About Managing People…And Nothing But the Truth, by Stephen P. Robbins
- Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion, by Jay Heinrichs
- Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
- Crucial Confrontations, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
- Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst , by Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner
- Coping With Difficult Bosses, by Robert Bramson
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