Workplace Conflict: 4 Secret Work Cultures & How They Impact Conflict

Workplace Conflict: 4 Secret Work Cultures & How They Impact Conflict

Ever wonder if your work environment is the right one for you? Then you’ll want to learn how to identify what kind of work culture you are in. That is, if you want to thrive.

Every business, family, and even individual has a culture – the culture is really the collection of values that strongly influence how we behave. Think of a group of people or a company or type of business you do not like. Perhaps a political party or a social group comes to mind. When you do not like them, it is because the culture of the group, company or business is far from your values. You have a bad match. Their behavior is not what you would consider acceptable because their behavior reflects their values and not your values. So, what does this mean for your work life?

If you and a company are a bad match, the I can predict conflict between you and the company. What many workers don’t know is that the kind of culture they are in is actually common

The simplest way to identify a company’s culture is to look around. How do the employees act with one another? What are the messages from the “top”?

Many of these cultures are “secret” because many workers do not realize that their organization even has an identifiable culture, or that they may be mismatched to their work culture. Most employees assume is their own fault for not getting along.

The following are four organizational cultures that you may not realize you are in. There are more than four, but I find these to be the some of the most common.

Secret Culture #1: Competitive

Chances are, if you are in a competitive work culture, it’s no “secret” to you. But what might be secret is that there are so many workers like you that are in the same boat. This is a common culture, that’s endemic across multiple kinds of business.

One example would be a firm that has 100 employees with 7 partners and the rest pushing their way up. Every year 10 people are hired and within 12 months only 3 are left. Each person spends the year proving he/she belongs by outsmarting, outmaneuvering, and out-bullying the others. Complaining is a form of suicide, so people either suffer in silence or move on to another job.

Secret Culture #2: Cooperative

This culture may be a secret to you because they are of the rarer variety. These kinds of organizations have very little turnover, and generally have a very satisfied group of employees.

An example from my experience is an engineering company that has open meetings where everyone contributes ideas. Colleagues help one another meet deadlines and people regularly meet to share new information and strategies. The company has a Civility Policy and HR helps people who have conflicts. Policies are reviewed and coaching or training is offered for those who are mistreating others.

Secret Culture #3: Unified

This culture is a dream for those who are high contact, high transparency workers that thrive in a team related environment. But it may not fit everyone, especially those who prefer to keep a “low profile.”

I know of a widget sales company that has a strategy of focused attention on sales goals, but sales people and the marketing team, as well as the support staff, work together. Everyone shares credit for success. If a salesperson is not producing, they receive a firm warning. If they do not produce, they are invited to move on. People want to go to the annual company picnic and celebrate every personal and professional win. HR has policies protecting people from harassment but it is rarely used. Most people feel that difficult situations stem from “tough but fair bosses”.

Secret Culture #4: Confused

Many of my clients come from this kind of culture, as it generates a huge amount of workplace conflict. If you are in this kind of culture, you definitely have some challenges ahead.

I once worked with a large consulting firm that has a self-image of being a caring and supportive workplace where administrators and bosses have same goals in mind but interviews with the staff show a very different story. They feel abused and used and do not understand what their bosses want from them. They do not get help from HR because HR believes the company culture is one of shared goals, so every complaint is seen as the problem of the complainer not the boss or the organization.

Why Company Culture Matters

Why is it important to understand the company culture?

  1. If you share the values of the company, then you will get along and do well.
  2. If your personal values are not aligned with the company’s then you can expect to have serious challenges to your productivity and success.
  3. Company cultures cannot be changed from the bottom so don’t take on the challenge
  4. If you plan to stay with a company even though you have a bad match, then you have significant work to do with your attitude, behavior, and strategies for survival.
  5. A company’s culture is neither right nor wrong, it just is, so there is no need to pass judgment or condemn the company or those people who seem to be part of that culture.

Navigate the Culture

Are you having difficulty navigating your company’s workplace culture? Are you not certain what kind of culture you are in? Realize that you are not alone, and chances are, many others feel exactly the same way you do.

For more tips on workplace conflict and bullying behaviors, exclusive content, and detailed reports, sign up for my free report on “Costs of Conflict.”

I’ve been a strategic consultant on workplace conflict to executives worldwide for more than 20 years. My work brings individualized solutions to your teams’ lost productivity, loss of key personnel, low morale, and the high costs resulting from bullying, abrasive behaviors and interpersonal workplace conflicts. You can contact me here.

I’m Kathleen Bartle, Conflict Consultant.


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