A conflict with a member of your team is not the result of the clash of two types of personality.
Your conflict is the result of different forces of which your personality traits are just one.
To understand and resolve conflict we need to look behind the forces that enable it. The problem is, we’re wired to do exactly the opposite!
We’re wired to oversimplify conflict and find easy answers that don’t necessarily resolve it in the best way.
We use mental shortcuts to avoid cognitive overload produced by too much information being processed in the brain at once.
Cognitive shortcuts are great. They help us to make decisions faster and solve problems quickly, but they also make us vulnerable to oversimplifying things and making mistakes.
These are some of the common shortcuts that prevent us from addressing conflict effectively:
🧠 Anchoring bias:
When making a decision, we tend to rely on the first piece of information presented to us.
For example, someone might present a conflict in this way:
What we have here is X, who is an introvert, and Z, who is an extrovert both back in the office after remote work stopped. X feels that his voice is not being taken into account in the team.
Do you see how we are anchoring the conflict around one piece of information?
🧠 Availability bias:
Making a decision based on what we are seeing and the available evidence that we have.
X had a loud argument with Z during a meeting, and as team leader you need to address this conflict. You know that X is argumentative and quite difficult to work with because he has been allocated to three different times in the last two years. Everybody says he is very difficult to work with. You’ve just read an article about dealing with difficult people at work that described him perfectly, so you approach the conflict with the assumption that X is a difficult person.
🧠 Attribution error:
We tend to think that other people’s behaviour is caused by their personality, but our behaviour is caused by external circumstances.
We can easily think that X made an error in the sales report because he never pays attention to detail, but if we make the same mistake, it is because we are tired from working long hours this week.
How can we avoid mental shortcuts and manage conflict more effectively?
🖊 Make a list of possible factors influencing the conflict, such as the individuals personalities, their personal circumstances and interactions, the environment they work in, the organization, and the culture.
🖊 List your own beliefs about the conflict and the people involved. Acknowledge your own bias.
🖊 Ask questions and try to learn what the conflict is really about. Be open.
Don’t oversimplify and never try to offer a solution without asking the right questions.
And if you want to have a good conversation about conflict, check how to move from me to us.