Dogs fighting

This is the second part of a four-part series on conflict analysis looking at the four root causes of conflict in the workplace. Part 1, different information, looked at the conflict when two or more parties have different information.

The second root of conflict, different interests, is when two parties want different outcomes. This is just part of life and can’t be avoided. We are all individuals with different preferences, tastes, desires and different sets of values. It gets particularly painful when the stakes are high as in when someone’s job in on the line or large sums of money are involved.

The higher the stakes, the more intense will be the conflict. For example, if a group of work colleagues are told that one of their jobs will have to go – or if several are competing for the same promotion – there is potential for conflict. It’s like two children fighting over the same toy or two dogs fighting over a bone. Only one can win and the others lose.

It can be the same with teams or departments whenever there is a situation where one team gains at the expense of another team. Within any traditional organisation, the sales/marketing departments will have different goals and interests to the operations department. Both will have different goals to the finance department.

Whenever there is a merger or take-over, the potential for conflict is very high. Two teams with different cultures are told to become one team. In reality it often appears that only one culture can survive and so a win/lose mindset is created.

The answer here is to re-frame the situation and try to negotiate a win/win solution.

The re-framing comes from recognising that when we work together, instead of fighting, we achieve more, create more value and generate more business – which translates into more money (or other benefits).

The negotiation is about finding fair and reasonable ways to share that benefit so that everyone wins. For an agreement to stick, it is important that the negotiations are totally transparent and that each party sees what everyone else is getting out of the deal as well as what they are getting. Only if all parties come to an agreement that they feel is fair, will they commit to it and make it work. A lot of trust is required to make this happen and make it last. Any party who negotiates without transparency, with the intention of getting the best deal for themselves and screwing over the other party, will undermine that trust. They might get a short-term benefit until the others realize they have been deceived. But in the long-term they will lose out because they are seen to be untrustworthy and will find it harder to reach agreements in the future.

In the past I have used games based on The Prisoners Dilemma to help groups understand how they approach negotiations. Many of us are so conditioned to a win-lose mentality that this is our automatic response. Because we expect others to be selfish and to try to screw us over, we reason that we should do the same. This inevitably leads to a lose-lose situation as neither side can acheive the trust required to build what needs to be built.

Looking for a win-win always involves taking the risk of trusting someone. It is true that they might abuse this trust. But it is even more true that another person is more likely to trust you if you can trust them first.

The third in this conflict analysis series will look at how different personalities and personal styles can be a cause of conflict in the workplace >>.

These articles have been compiled into a free ebook, with an additional conflict analysis questionaire at the end to help assess the different components of any conflict. If you would like to download a copy, just fill in your name and email address in the form here, and it will be emailed to you. Click here to access the ebook

Mike Lowe
Helping individuals and teams get into flow

Conflict analysis – four causes of conflict, part 2. Different interests
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