According to a survey measuring the experiences of 5,000 employees across nine different countries, 85 percent of employees have dealt with conflict at work to some degree. Similarly, the state of Virginia’s Department of Human Resources reported that 60 to 80 percent of workplace “difficulties” are due to “strained relationships.”
When individuals come together in the workplace, they bring their personal values, experiences, thoughts and attitudes. Naturally, these differences come to light as people are tasked to work together and have different ideas on the best way to do things. For the longevity of our careers, though, all professionals must learn how to disagree without being disagreeable.
In order to ensure you don’t make a mountain out of a molehill, keep in mind how perception is at play in your daily interactions. Here are three reasons why.
1. “Right” and “wrong” can be very subjective.
Although the effects of conflict can be complex, its root can be mapped to one simple truth: We all see the world differently. Have you ever heard two people tell completely different accounts of the same experience? While two people can experience the same event, the way they perceive what happened can be completely different. English novelist Aldous Huxley said, “There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” Understanding this truth allows us to recognize that there is no right or wrong way of seeing things – only different points of view.
2. The “story” we tell ourselves determines how we respond.
In his work on personality, Chris Argyris introduced the ladder of inference to describe the mental filtering process we use to determine how to respond to a given situation. Because we don’t see things the same way, we don’t respond in the same way, either. Your perceptions inform the subsequent value judgements you make, interpretations and meanings you give, logical conclusions you draw, emotional and physical responses you have, and actions you take.
The ladder of inference underpins the story we tell ourselves and how we respond to our environment, which means that while someone’s reaction seems wildly inappropriate to you, it could seem completely justifiable to them. Appreciating how others’ perceptions guide their behavior can help you understand why they act differently than you.
3. Small communication adjustments can improve contentious relationships.
As hard as it can be to remember in the moment, when conflict arises, it’s rarely because one or both parties are trying to be difficult. Taking steps to avoid and resolve conflict doesn’t mean that one person must gloss over what he or she thinks is important and accept another person’s view. Instead, it requires that the individuals involved acknowledge that their perception of reality is not the only one at play.
Considering what adjustments you can make to your communication style in relation to how others prefer to be communicated with can also bring your intentions closer to your desired results. Learning and development tools can help people understand their communication style so they can adapt and connect that style to the needs of their environment without putting anyone off.
Conflict and unexpected behavior in the workplace can create obstacles to performance, productivity and bottom-line results. Appreciating how others’ perceptions guide their behavior can help you stave off destructive conflict or more easily navigate it when it occurs. Additionally, recognizing the differences that arise in the interpretation process makes it easier to identify and isolate the point at which conflict arises. When you find yourself villainizing someone, consider for a moment if you’re making the most respectful interpretation of the situation.