Productive conflict is good for organizational health, but it’s not always easy to achieve. We’ve probably all experienced the tension in the air from being in conflict with someone at work. Tension so thick you could cut it with a knife. Maybe it’s because you didn’t see eye to eye with your boss, or you had a teammate who worked your last nerve because they were constantly taking sole credit for work you did together. No matter who it was, or what the circumstance, you were left feeling drained each time you shared space with that person. 

The way conflict makes us feel can wreak havoc on collaborative projects, mental health and employment in general. Unfortunately, this situation can lead some of us to run for the hills, becoming masters of conflict avoidance. Whereas others of us, run headlong into it unconcerned for the wreckage left behind. But the reality is that the goal should always be to strive for productive conflict. It’s important to out the elephant in the room – whatever it is. And when done well, this is one of the most constructive and effective ways to handle conflict. 

But Conflict is Uncomfortable

Patrick Lencioni, author of the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, cites fear of conflict as one of the major reasons teams fail to reach their true potential.  Avoiding conflict often makes us feel better in the short term, but it doesn’t solve the problem. Instead, it just prolongs the situation and almost always sets it up for happening again,

and again,

and again.

This can be hard because deep down, we know that we’re compromising our true feelings by shoving the frustration down and moving on without actually solving the situation. Or by damaging our work relationships that make it impossible to collaborate.

Conflict for many can be uncomfortable, but it’s also a natural and inevitable part of all relationships. So figuring out how to embrace the idea of productive conflict is an important step in creating a great team. Teams that practice productive conflict experience more creativity, collaboration and cohesion. In general, healthy conflict improves interpersonal workplace relationships across the board. The only problem is, what one person sees as “healthy” might be another person’s worst nightmare. And, that’s because people have different personality types (what makes us tick + life experience). 

Personality Affects Conflict

The different personality types have different natural tendencies, communicate differently and are motivated by different things. Understanding how each person is naturally wired is key for not only becoming more familiar with the personality types, but also for navigating conflict. When we understand how we show up in the world and why, we’re much more likely to want to understand how and why others show up the way they do. And we might even meet them where they are. So let’s take a look at some of the behaviors common to the four major DiSC™ personality types when in conflict. 

Conflict & the Dominant

The Dominant personality type usually presents as confident, take charge and results oriented employees. These are good qualities but when they’re confidence is borderline boastful and their encroaching on your territory or taking credit for your work, conflict is a very possible outcome. Especially if they use their physical presence to make their point (which is common). Teammates who don’t come across as confidently as the Dominant, but are just as qualified, may feel intimidated and choose to acquiesce instead of standing up for themselves and their work. The Dominant also makes decisions quickly and may cause others to feel like they just can’t keep up. These scenarios can lead to impatience and autocratic responses from the Dominant, which do not encourage collaboration.

The Influencer & Conflict

The Influencer type is the forever optimist and always tries to make things fun. They also have a lot of words that have to be expressed before the end of each day! And they use their incredible social skills to create and maintain relationships. However, their organization and process skills are sometimes lacking. If they hone their social skills too much, teammates are going to grumble that they’re spending way too much time socializing and not enough time working. Then when conflict comes to a head, the Influencer often responds loudly and emotionally. So much so, that they often surprise their teammates, and not in a good way. This type of behavior may be a steam release for the Influencer, but it can also seriously damage the relationships they’ve worked so hard to cultivate.

Conflict & the Steady

The Steady personality type is an amazing collaborator and team player. They’re naturally supportive and they work hard to make sure every voice on the team is heard. However, they often find it hard to express their own thoughts and feelings making it difficult to ensure that their voice is heard. They really prefer calm and status quo, so when tension rises, agreement is usually what you’ll get. This is even if they aren’t actually tied to what they’ve agreed to. The Steady just wants to get along. This unfortunately means that teammates who are louder, pushier, and possibly more physically demonstrative often shut the Steady down. And when one teammate feels that they’re voice isn’t valued, you have a dysfunctional team.

The Conscientious & Conflict

And, lastly, there is the Conscientious personality type. These guys have very analytical brains and it’s important to them that their work is precise and detailed. Some might call them perfectionists. Because of this they can lose sense of time and end up in the weeds of a project. They’re also quite sensitive but you’d never know it by looking at them because they keep their emotions in check. This type tends toward avoidance when conflict arises, preferring to just go it alone. They typically try to remove themselves from the situation and work independently. That’s the way they prefer to work anyway. But of course, we all know, that being on a team, means working together, not in isolation.

Productive Conflict is the Answer

The personality types show up differently at work, and one is not better than the other. But the differences can create conflict. The conflict continuum from The 5 Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™ training program shows artificial harmony on one end and mean spirited, ugly conflict on the other. Take a minute to consider where your team falls. If you’re stuck in artificial harmony or worse, you won’t get very far. When we aren’t willing to respectfully go toe to toe for something we feel strongly about – pushing to the line, but not going over the line – we begin to lose sight of what’s really important. Unfortunately this is the downhill slide into mediocrity, and often culminates in an exit strategy. Conflict has that much power.

So decide today to learn how your personality is tied to the conflict you experience and what you can do about it. And stay tuned for our next blog post where we’ll dig into ways you can encourage productive conflict at work. The Culture (R)evolution Starts With You!

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