Like many of us, I assumed that personality conflicts in the workplace were the result of having to deal with difficult people. What I know now is that most – if not all – workplace personality conflicts derive from deeper structural issues.
Is the difficult individual:
- unclear about her or his job description?
- having to report to more than one person at a time?
- given more work to do than is humanly possible to complete during a normal work week?
- underpaid for the level and quality of work demanded?
- understaffed and under-resourced, making it difficult to complete quality work requested in a timely fashion?
- kept in the dark about larger organizational challenges, perspectives, and plans?
- rarely or never selected for further professional development?
Is the difficult relationship:
- the result of unclear lines of authority? Who’s actually zooming whom?
- the result of policy gaps, where neither really knows what he or she is supposed to do, by when, and for which policy, constituency, or audience?
- the result of unspoken conventions that have never been written down, but play out every day?
- the result of limited or non-existing professional development? Remember, “Deadwood” was once a live tree, curious to learn and excited to help!
- the result of pure exhaustion on the part of one or both parties? A little deep rest could go a long way towards resolution.
- the result of simple exclusion? “Tick, tock, the game is locked, and nobody else can play.”
- the result of mixed messages and poor leadership from above that has divided and conquered, taking the attention away from the poor leader?
Take a few minutes to ask and answer these questions for your situation and organization. Then ask yourself one question intuitively: “What one action on my part, if any, could remedy this situation. Take the very first answer you get in seven seconds or less and act on it. It is possible that this difficult person may not be difficult any more, and the situation may begin to be resolved!