The Source of Workplace Strife

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Ben Dattner shares an article published in Harvard Business Review that reveals the source of most conflicts in the workplace. 

Conflict happens everywhere, including in the workplace. When it does, it’s tempting to blame it on personalities.  But more often than not, the real underlying cause of workplace strife is the situation itself, rather than the people involved. So, why do we automatically blame our coworkers? Chalk it up to psychology and organizational politics, which cause us to oversimplify and to draw incorrect or incomplete conclusions.

There’s a good reason why we’re inclined to jump to conclusions based on limited information. Most of us are, by nature, “cognitive misers,” a term coined by social psychologists Susan Fiske and Shelley Taylor to describe how people have a tendency to preserve cognitive resources and allocate them only to high-priority matters. And the limited supply of cognitive resources we all have is spread ever-thinner as demands on our time and attention increase.

As human beings evolved, our survival depended on being able to quickly identify and differentiate friend from foe, which meant making rapid judgments about the character and intentions of other people or tribes. Focusing on people rather than situations is faster and simpler, and focusing on a few attributes of people, rather than on their complicated entirety, is an additional temptation.

Stereotypes are shortcuts that preserve cognitive resources and enable faster interpretations, albeit ones that may be inaccurate, unfair, and harmful. While few people would feel comfortable openly describing one another based on racial, ethnic, or gender stereotypes, most people have no reservations about explaining others’ behavior with a personality typology like Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (“She’s such an ‘INTJ’”), Enneagram, or Color Code (“He’s such an 8: Challenger”).

 

Key points include:

  • The problem with personality or style typologies
  • The right approach to resolving conflicts at work
  • Using personality testing

 

Read the full article, Most Work Conflicts Aren’t Due to Personality, on HBR.org.