Causes of Conflict
Example: Personality Clashes
Two supervisors, Bill and Don, had been given instructions to reduce their group size by two people. Having only 10 people in each group, this was a sizeable reduction. Bill's personality tended to favor people. He was generally more sensitive to people, and was a caring, thoughtful supervisor. Don was just the opposite. He was more concerned with group production, and considered people's feelings secondary to the work.
They met to discuss the staff reduction. Bill discussed that he had assembled his group and discussed openly with them the need for the reduction. He said the group talked about what could be done for the people who would be leaving. Could they help with job searches, resume writing, and referrals? The group even discussed reducing everyone's hours and maintaining the ten people for a while. Bill said that he had finally asked for volunteers, and, in fact, two people said they would allow themselves to be "downsized" out. Bill was happy with the outcome.
Don was outraged. He couldn't believe Bill had done something so irresponsible. "What," he said "if they were your two best people, or people you had just invested training dollars in?" He said Bill should be more concerned with what the group will look like after the dust
settles. They argued about how this downsizing should occur with all the emotion and passion they could muster. It was a real conflict.
This conflict represents the classic personality clash. Bill's "feeling" orientation guided his concern for group collaboration and how to help those leaving. Don's "thinking" orientation meant that his logic ruled over his feelings. He was more concerned with the performance of the group after the downsizing.
In fact, both approaches were appropriate, but since both supervisors were so strong in their own personality preferences, they simply could not see the other's point of view. The ideal solution would have been for them to combine the two elements of "thinking" and "feeling" to arrive at the best solution. But they couldn't see this approach and left the discussion thinking ill of each other.
Fred is intuitive and relishes group brainstorming sessions. He just loves proposing new ideas. Sue, on the other hand, is good with detail and analysis,
but not as strong in idea-generating. During one of their team meetings, Fred proposed several new ideas to the team. Sue's detail orientation was
easily able to pick apart some flaws in Fred's ideas, before they even had a chance to be discussed
adequately. Actually, without saying it, Sue thought Fred's ideas were
ridiculous and that he was irresponsible for proposing them before thinking them through.
Each time his new ideas were attacked by Sue, Fred became more agitated.
Finally, after proposing his last idea toward the end of the meeting,
Fred turned to Sue and, red-faced and angry, said "OK, now tell me what's wrong with this idea!" Feeling attacked in front of the team, Sue responded defensively. Back and forth they went until open conflict erupted, and the meeting ended on a sour note.
This is the classic rift between those who are good at initiating ideas, looking into the future, and those who are more prone to doing the analysis, appreciating detail and steps, and more rooted in the here and now. The idea person thinks the other is a "stick in the mud" while the detail person thinks the idea person to be irresponsible and prone to flights of fancy. In fact,
both are needed for team performance. There is a time for idea generation and a time for doing the final analysis to make the idea come alive.
Team members that understand personality tend to appreciate each others' differences rather than lament them. They know how to use those differences to the team's advantage. For example, if Fred would have sought out Sue prior to the above meeting and bounced his ideas against her ability to find the fatal flaws, the two of them could have presented ideas that would have been better received by the entire team.
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