Understand Factors Affecting Conflict (Part 2)

In previous article, we have identified 5 following factors that affect conflict in relationships:

  1. Contrasting and Conflicting Values
  2. Irritating and Exasperating Living Habits
  3. Unrealistic and Hidden Expectations
  4. Ineffective and Negative Communication Patterns
  5. Selfishness and Self-interest

Click here for Understanding Factors Affecting Conflict (Part 1)

In this article, we continue to look at 5 other factors that influence the way we interact and perceive others.

6.   Differing and Conflicting Interests

As such people achieve influence within the organization, whenever there is a conflict between their own interest and the interest of the organization, their interests will win out. — Robert Shea

Another constant source of disagreement is diverse and conflicting interests. For instance, the sales department is more concerned about meeting sales targets, whereas for the production department, the production schedule and process are its prime concerns, while the finance department worries about financial transparency and exactitude. Very often, the various departments clash because of their differing priorities.

Similarly, in parent-teen relationships, parents and teens have different interests.

Yuin, a teenager, had no qualms about spending money on branded clothes as looking good and peer acceptance were his priorities. His dad, Leong, came from a poor background and his money had been hard-earned. Leong could not appreciate why Yuin would choose to wear a $150 pair of jeans when a $30 pair would suffice for Leong.

“All jeans are the same! Yuin doesn’t know the value of money!” complained Leong to his wife, Ying. Both father and son are at perpetual loggerheads on how to spend money!

 7.   Negative Prejudices and a Critical Outlook

Negative first impressions, if not managed, can become prejudices. We all have biases. It is important to know what these biases are. In the field of communication, there are three basic types.

 a.         Fundamental Attribution Bias

This is the tendency for us to attribute another person’s behaviors to internal dispositions but our own behaviors to external factors.1 In other words, when others are wrong, we blame their characters and negative intentions. However, when we are wrong, we blame the situation. For instance, when we are late for work, we blame the traffic. But when any of our staff is running late, we accuse them of being lazy and irresponsible. This fundamental bias is innate in all of us.

 b.         False Consensus Bias

False consensus bias refers to the assumption that our lifestyles, behaviors and attitudes are yardsticks of normality.2 Put simply, we assume that others are like us. If we are systematic and organized, we expect our staff to be like us. Their differences, like being more laissez-faire, distress us. We feel we are the normal while others are abnormal or subnormal. Some bosses even want to clone themselves!

This problem can be aggravated when our demands become specific expectations, like with Roh, the sales director who expected his staff to do sales and write reports according to his specifications. Any deviation was viewed as defiance and deemed disloyal.

Coupled with this, we also accuse our staff of poor work attitude if they behave differently from us. If so, we fall right into the fundamental attribution bias as well.

c.          Negative Impression Bias

Negative impression bias is the third common perceptual bias. People have a tendency to focus on negative information about others.3 The principle of negativity is ubiquitous: Negative information is perceived to carry greater weight than positive information. Put simply, we tend to concentrate on a person’s negative characteristic, then use that perception to judge subsequent behavior.

People have a tendency to focus on negative information about others.

If I say Kim, an IT director, is “highly competent, very organized, extremely detailed but not creative”, what would you focus on? Conventional mindset would remember Kim as “not creative”.

This is negative impression bias at work. Our tendency is to emphasize the negative aspect, almost entirely ignoring the positive aspects. This attention on a person’s negative behavior can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby the person’s negative trait is progressively confirmed by our treatment of them . They confirm our own prejudices.

8.   Emotional Hang-ups and ‘Hot Buttons’

Some people have little control of their emotions. They tend to become unduly sensitive, irascible, petulant, and angry especially during times of extreme pressure. Small things upset them . They give in to sudden outbursts when provoked. They scowl when others disagree with them . Their lack of emotional self-control makes them difficult to manage.

If they are high-performing staff, bosses tend not to want to get rid of them, so they have to be constantly pacified. Bosses, too, have their emotional hang-ups and ‘hot buttons’. We may become irritated and get into emotional outbursts when subordinates challenge us. Unresolved past hurts can also etch deeply in our implicit memories and damage our psyche to the extent that they become ‘hot buttons’ in our lives.

Randy would become very angry whenever his brother’s name, Robert, was mentioned. His daughter, Louisa, however, enjoyed a good relationship with her uncle. Whenever Louisa brought Robert into any discussion, Randy would become visibly upset.

Unknown to Louisa, Robert had always been the mama boy in the family. Randy was unfavorably compared by their parents and considered the black sheep of the family. He still harbored hostility towards his parents and Robert. The two brothers never got along, even though Robert, who was unmarried, treated Louisa like his own daughter.

9.   Stressful and Over-demanding Situations

The pressure on bosses and employees to succeed is punishing. They have to excel in all fronts: at work, in the family and in their personal lives. At work, there is always another ladder to climb. There is always more money to be made. Materialism has such a mesmerizing effect.

It is no wonder that we tend to react rather than respond to situations and circumstances. We lose our self-control and can become easily provoked when we are at home. We find ourselves getting peeved by the little irritants that are our spouses and children.

10.  Varying Levels of Competency

The truth in many workplaces today is that there simply are not enough competent people. Poor attitudes, an unwillingness to learn, and a tendency to switch jobs for a few extra dollars promote high levels of incompetence. At every level, we have staff at varying levels of competence, or the lack thereof.

Many of us are also incompetent in managing conflicts. Some choose the wrong time to confront. Some are always avoiding conflict. Yet others do not know how to recover from conflict.

At home, parenting is a skill that has to be learned and role modeled for us. However, most parents learn parenting on the run. We do not have time to equip ourselves, whether by attending seminars or reading books on parenting. This is especially true for fathers. For many fathers, we do not have very good role models as well. For many of us, we literally learn parenting skills from scratch!

Impact on Conflict Management

All the 10 factors interact and impact each other. Our biases may lead to negative communication styles which then become ‘hot buttons’ to others. Hence, there is no one single solution to conflict management.

To be effective conflict managers, we need to take an integrated approach, starting with a greater appreciation of these factors, analyzing our own negative, destructive styles, then digging deep into the different toxins before launching into a series of prevention and intervention approaches.

If Loong is incompetent, makes blunders in his work, and is constantly in confl ict with his peers, training and coaching may be an integral part of the solution.

If Jin has a tendency to lose control at meetings, we should get under her skin, fi nd out what is really bugging her, and help her manage it. By uncovering her weakness, we are preventing her future derailment.

If Tracy has a few ‘hot buttons’, we may need to uncover her past hurts and slowly heal her memory.

Conflicts may be dominated by certain major factors that create or aggravate a situation. We need to work at and confront these factors squarely, one at a time. Effective conflict management demands a holistic, systematic, and intentional approach.

This is an adapted excerpt from John’s book, “Smiling Tiger, Hidden Dragon” – a timely and comprehensive book that gives a fresh approach to conflict management from an Asian perspective.