Global Resilience Solutions > Category:conflict

When You Find Yourself Working With Wackos…

Few things in life have the capacity to sap our energy and test our personal resilience like interpersonal conflict. And our places of work are at the top of the list for venues where this is most likely to hit us in the face.

Odds are that at some point, you’ve encountered inexplicable behaviour in the midst of conflict with or among your coworkers. Sorting out where those behaviours are coming from and what to do about them is not always easy. People react the way they do for many non-obvious reasons, and getting to the bottom of it can be a pain.



Normal Pressures

Even well-adjusted teams will run across conflicts from time to time. Ordinarily, frank and open dialogue fostered by mutual trust is enough to deal with it- trust is the single factor that determines the course of most conflict, as we’ll see below. Sometimes, external pressures will lead to significant build-ups of frustration. At these times, it’s important to stop and let everyone have their say, and then take time out to let off steam. If this is the course of most of your workplace conflicts, congratulations. If not, keep reading.


Defensive Constructs

Even relatively “normal” people tend to build no end of walls around themselves when they feel significantly threatened. These walls consist of the narratives that they want to project about the situation and their role and objectives in it, as opposed to their actual objectives and the values behind them. Unfortunately, this defensive lens is often the single greatest obstacle to resolving the conflict. Professional mediators spend a great deal of their time trying to get the parties in the dispute to the point where they can be honest about their emotions, their objectives, the values they feel are at stake, the pressures they are under and, especially, their fears.

Normal interpersonal conflict is most often about two things- fear and frustration- with anger and defensiveness being the consequence rather than the cause. Breaking through that fear to establish trust sufficient to discuss the real problems can be tedious, but it can also be revealing. What pressure is really driving so-and-so to micromanage? What threat does so-and-so perceive that is leading to a personality conflict? This is exactly the sort of conflict that often does come to professional mediation, simply because most people are neither patient enough nor sufficiently detached from the situation to see the underlying dynamics and separate cause from effect.


Connection and Corporate Culture Problems

An entirely different class of problems comes from people whose interpersonal actions breach the trust and respect necessary to maintain effective working relationships.

Lack of Respect, Sensitivity or Trustworthiness – In one case we know of, a manager of a small department absolutely refused to assist her small and overworked staff with the essential work of that department, even when they were completely overloaded, or to learn anything about that work, on the grounds that she ‘wasn’t paid to do administrative work.’ As a result, her only competent full-time subordinate has left, lodging abuse complaints against her, and her remaining competent part-time subordinate is about to leave, at which point the department will cease to function as the manager will be completely unable to train any replacements, having never done the job herself. This manager’s egotistical relationship with her subordinates is effectively destroying her organisation’s ability to take on or interface with clients.

Other signs of a dysfunctional corporate culture- cliquishness, backstabbing and so on- also fall into this category. The simple fact is that when one person denies another respect, they are not going to get along until that changes. Stephen Covey emphasizes the need to consciously build systems of trust around us in order to create a healthy professional environment.

The Leader Creates the Organisation He Deserves– When a leader sets an example of unprincipled behaviour, he should expect his subordinates to be similarly unprincipled. For example, a leader who plots to extirpate a colleague or subordinate through dishonest means should expect everyone to employ equal and opposite dishonesty in trying to keep their jobs. When a leader lies, cuts corners, fails to consult where he should, shows nepotism, disrespects the time, goals, expectations, potential or efforts of his subordinates, all of those behaviours will spill down and penetrate and poison all levels of the organisation.

In one organisation we are acquainted with, a leader of ex-military background began to hire his friends, and their friends, into every vacancy at the expense of more qualified people from within the organisation. He justified this by saying that their peripheral qualifications- such as leadership in fitness activities- fit his “vision” for the organisation, despite their complete lack of qualifications for the jobs they were hired to do. This man is long gone, but the organisation remains a shining example of what happens when dysfunctional corporate culture, cliquishness, juvenile backbiting and descent to the lowest common denominator are encouraged by the example of the people in charge.


Abnormal Conflicts

If you find yourself in a conflict with someone that is neither the normal pressures of life nor a defensive construct nor a connection problem, you’re probably venturing into the realm of abnormal psychology, which could mean one of several things.

Traumatic Programming– You may be tapping into a traumatic program left by a previous experience. Traumatic emotional energy is “frozen” in our systems as a self-protective measure to prevent us from experiencing its full impact. What this means, unfortunately, is that every time similar circumstances or emotions come up, it just adds to the well. Traumatic responses are irrationally defensive, and often uncontrollable. If you think you’ve hit one of these, it’s time to back off and think about another avenue to approach the problem (unless of course the person in question is amenable to a quick trip to your nearest EFT practitioner!).

Personality Disorders– We’ve talked about some of the worst of these, but they come in infinite variety, and are often patterned early in life. Pathological and systematic deception, seemingly irrational hatred of a particular person or kind of person, manipulation, harsh denigration of others, lack of empathy, irrationally violent responses to criticism or challenges to their self-image, radically different personality traits manifesting with different people, all these are common manifestations of different personality disorders. When dealing with these, caution is essential, especially with the big two: narcissists (who are good at deceiving people and sucking them into their egocentric worldviews) and psychopaths (who will break any rule they can get away with). See the link above for more on this. Whatever the case, document absolutely everything. The less immediately dangerous personalities are actually the ones who seem more unstable, because more people will have noticed and you can likely find people who have had similar experiences with them.

Each personality disorder has its own objective, and finding that objective is key to dealing with them. For the narcissist, the objective is always reinforcement of their own narratives of personal goodness or greatness. For the psychopath, power is always the goal. Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder seeks structure through rigid adherence to rules and control. Other cases may get more specific- in one case, an obese female manager specifically targeted smart and attractive professional women for prolonged workplace abuse.

These are the most devastating and dangerous conflicts, because they involve people who are often totally self-centered, completely amoral and willing to do whatever it takes to feel safe and secure in their warped vision of reality. Worse than that, because most “normal” people today are highly conflict-averse, they often fail to see or to admit to themselves just how destructive these “abnormal” people can be.


Develop Discernment

We humans act and interact as though most conflicts were straightforward, with obvious right and wrong answers or easy resolutions. As a result, we deal only with the most obvious level of conflict (which, except for the first kind, is most often nothing to do with what’s actually going on), with the result that unaddressed levels continue to fester, making our professional life difficult and severely damaging our personal resilience over time. In order to overcome this problem, we have to cultivate sensitivity to the different potential levels of conflict and learn to listen, observe and pay attention in order to accurately diagnose what we’re dealing with and respond in an appropriate and effective way.

Now look around you. What workplace conflicts can you apply this knowledge to today?

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger