How Communications and Perceptions Play a Role in Managing Conflict

In my previous article about managing conflict, I discussed three factors behind most organizational conflict. That’s one part of the equation. Our communication styles also play a large role in managing conflict.

While there are a different ways to describe or group communication styles, fundamentally our communication style can be perceived by others as non-assertive, assertive, or aggressive.

Each of us has a preference, and we’re capable of switching to another, as appropriate.

We are sometimes unaware, however, of how others perceive us. You may think you’re being appropriately assertive, but a more sensitive or resentful coworker may perceive you to be aggressive.

Add to the mix gender differences, our personal agendas, and it’s easy to see how communications breakdown and breed conflict. I see this happen all the time in organizations. It’s hard to know how we come across with the language and tone of voice we’re so accustomed to using.

How Leaders Contribute to Conflict

Leaders contribute to conflict by communicating ambiguously, either intentionally or unintentionally.

Most of us want to avoid conflict, but we can sometimes “talk out of both sides of our mouths” and give mixed messages. Such ambiguous communication fosters an organizational climate that discourages commitment (at best) and promotes unhealthy conflict (at worst).

I’m not saying leaders do this on purpose (although some do). But highly educated people are skilled in the language of diplomacy and often try to address the needs and desires of a wide audience. In trying to please everyone, they craft messages that border on double-speak.

This is more of an explanation but not a rationalization and it certainly isn’t a good excuse.

Many leaders are sitting too close to the blackboard to see their communication errors. An unbiased professional coach or consultant can help correct approaches that contribute to conflict.

The Organizations’ Role in Conflict

Conflict is multi-faceted, isn’t it? In addition to the three sources of conflict (link to Article Nugget #2), our communication styles and other’s perceptions, there are several conditions make a workplace fertile ground for conflict. Here are a few conditions that come to mind:

  1. If an organization has a rigid hierarchical structure, with an authoritarian leadership culture, expect incessant arguments and a robust rumor mill. In this type of environment, open communications are discouraged.
  2. Is there a poorly instituted reward/promotional system, where unfair favoritism occurs?
  3. When managers are forced to compete for limited resources, their agendas can prevent them from getting along with others. They become more concerned with their personal or departmental gains and forget about the organization’s overall well-being.
  4. Change itself can destabilize relations because people struggle when they’re forced out of their comfort zones. Companies involved in mergers and/or acquisitions, for example, experience more conflict. Rapidly changing environments create a ripe atmosphere for stress, anxiety and conflict.

What do you think about these possible sources that create more conflict instead of helping people do their work in the best possible environment? I’d love to hear your comments.