How to Revolutionize Workplace Conflict and Overcome Negative Assumptions

by Erin Mahoney on October 9, 2017

in Employee Engagement,Strengths

Butting Heads

In my experience as a coach, a consultant, and a trainer, the number one saboteur of workplace relationships is that we make assumptions as to why someone is acting a particular way and those assumptions are almost always negative – and incorrect.

The main culprit is one I’ve written about before – Fundamental Attribution Error (and you can read more about it here and here) – but to recap, it essentially means that we don’t give people the benefit of the doubt that we give ourselves. If someone does something that bothers us, we attribute it to an undesirable character flaw rather than the context in which the behavior arose or a difference in viewpoint that may even be quite valuable.

Up until now, the only prescription I’ve had to offer my clients – and myself – has been self-awareness: attempting to question the negative narratives that come to mind about why people behave the way they do and instead immediately prompt oneself to think why a kind, rational person would exhibit the exact same behavior. But it’s often a losing battle. In the thick of a workplace frustration, it’s too tempting to succumb to that snarky inner voice that tells us that our coworker is just annoying. Or a jerk. There’s just not a compelling enough alternative narrative.

What amazes me is that the antidote has been right in front of my eyes since March, since we became Partners with Predictive Index (“PI”). I’ve been so enraptured with the power of PI’s ability to predict workplace fit, hire the best candidates, build succession plans, and engage and coach individuals that it’s taken me a little while to catch on that PI is helping me see people in a totally new light. It’s helping me decode human behavior in a way that naturally pacifies Fundamental Attribution Error and its biased kin before it has a chance to take root in my subconscious.

The Predictive Index uncovers the drives that motivate us. Those drives create needs which result in behaviors and behaviors are exactly the things we get hung up on. Since learning about PI, when I see someone exhibiting a behavior that I find challenging, I think about that person’s underlying needs and drives and my own underlying needs and drives and, when I do, even when I disagree or dislike the behavior at hand, their behavior seems totally reasonable and sometimes quite valuable, too.

PI offers a way to quickly diffuse the uncomfortable aspects of conflict (anger, anxiety, hurt feelings) and still yield the fruit that comes from it: the free flowing passionate exchange of ideas and opinions in the search of a better way. Instead of battling over who’s right and who’s wrong, we can look at what’s driving our interests. And when we can look at disagreements as different interests and priorities, rather than competing positions or sides, we can find a way forward that respects both people’s drives and motivations.

For example, I recently worked with a leadership group where only one person had a high formality drive – the drive to conform to rules and structure, to do the things “right.” The rest of the team, all of whom had a low formality drive (and therefore saw rules and structure as guidelines only) were driven crazy by how often their teammate would shoot down an idea, saying they couldn’t do it for one reason or another. Thanks to PI, they don’t see their teammate as a “stickler” or a “joy kill” anymore. They understand that he’s not bursting their bubble. Rather, he has a strong desire to protect the organization from risk. In contrast, the individual with the high formality drive now sees his teammates as “venturesome” rather than “foolish” – and able to see opportunities despite risk.

Since this discovery, the team still experiences plenty of conflict, but they have the ability to see their disagreements in a whole new light. They can talk about the merits of opportunities and ways to mitigate risk without succumbing to labeling each other’s character. They can even acknowledge the benefits of having different motivations and drives on the team.

In short, PI gives an organization a way to easily understand the uniqueness of every individual in your workplace as well as a way for every individual to easily understand each other. It’s no small feat and has the capability to totally revolutionize the ways we work together.

So watch out Fundamental Attribution Error. PI is coming for you.

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