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Recognize the real cause of conflict

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

When conflict erupts among your people, it’s often sparked—believe it or not—by a clash of social identities.

Group A takes pride in doing things one way; Group B has built its stellar track record on doing things another way. When you mix people from the two groups … Bang!

Your policies, practices and climate are the bedrock on which you can build a peaceful, orderly work environment. Make sure you enforce ironclad policies of inclusiveness and zero tolerance for fighting, harassment and discrimination.

Also, you’ll have to be sensitive and clever because identity-based conflict is hard to spot. At first, it might look like an argument over resources or personalities. Never assume you have one, common culture with shared values.

These strategies may help:
  • Keep members of different groups in contact across teams, departments and job levels. Rotate work groups to soften social boundaries.

  • Cultivate group identity. If the whole organization has a collective identity or mission, your job will be much easier. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, but if everybody is working toward the same goal, then the culture becomes all-inclusive, minimizing differences.

  • Share status. If work groups form tightly around function and identity, give them equal status. Don’t insult people’s intelligence, but make sure everybody is recognized. When people feel appreciated, they’ll have more room to value others.
— Adapted from “Tension Triggers: What Sets Off Identity Conflict?” and “Identity and Conflict: A Leader’s Role,” Center for Creative Leadership,

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