Workplace Conflict- The Hidden Culprit

Workplace Conflict

The Hidden Culprit of Conflict?
Workplace conflict costs companies billions of dollars by turnover, absenteeism, loss of productivity, and even legal costs. The hidden cause of workplace conflict may not be what you may think. This simple error can compound itself and your team into costly and embarrassing trouble. In fact, workplace conflict, including abrasive behavior and bullying, costs corporations millions of dollars per year in lost earnings due to sick leave and in losing key personnel.

More and more employees are unwilling to tolerate bad behavior from their colleagues and superiors. So, the buck does stop with YOU, the employer. It is in your best interest to understand one of the key causes of conflict and learn what you can do about it.

What’s the number one cause of workplace conflict? No, it’s not arguing about procedures or missing deadlines. It’s making assumptions instead of listening!

Assumptions Come From Our “Autopilot” Brain
Your brain is excellent at recognizing and remembering patterns. It is so good at it, that when you do something for a long time and develop a routine, your brain ceases to actively think about it. You use this “autopilot” feature of your brain to drive home, take a shower, and yes, do many of your work tasks.

Unfortunately, this can also lead you to think that you know all the information when you actually do not. The geography of your drive home may never change, but interactions with work colleagues are always in a state of change, even though they may look the same.

Workplace Conflict- cont..

Assumptions Mean Catastrophic Consequences
Back in 1990, the most sophisticated and expensive telescope ever built, the Hubble Space Telescope, was plagued with a blurry image. Billions of taxpayer dollars went into the mission to build and launch the telescope. The problem? The team responsible for focusing the mirror was working with the English Standard system of measurement, and the team responsible for grinding the mirror was working with the metric system. Autopilot assumptions!

“Oops” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Do you think at some point anyone bothered to ask the question if both teams were using the same standard of measurement? At the end of the day, someone made a huge assumption. Congress and taxpayers were yelling at NASA. Heck, NASA was yelling at itself. And the conflict that ensued threatened funding for the entire space program. You can guarantee that no one in charge has ever forgotten the importance of listening.

Asking Questions is the Antidote
Asking questions leads to more information, less assumptions and fewer conflicts. It is truly that simple.

Workplace Conflict- conclusion

What Types of Questions Should You Ask?
Ask HOW, WHY, WHERE & WHEN questions to start. Question your assumptions, question the facts, question your feelings, question your hunches, and ask questions about potential problems. All of these areas will help you reduce conflict and improve your successes. It’s a double win.

For examples on how to use questions to improve listening, read my last blog “Are You Not Asking Enough Questions? Why We Fail to Listen.”

  • Kmatheson

    Brilliant and insightful. There is so much information that advises us to trust our instincts and unconscious mind and a great deal of this is very useful but it is great to see an article that advises stepping back and looking at a situation in a logical and thoughtful way. To ask questions before making a decision or form an opinion is blindingly obvious but it had to be said. Thank you for saying it in a way that is interesting and attention grabbing.

  • Lynne Diligent

    I’m really shocked to hear that measurement problem happened again. I heard years ago that that was the exact cause of the Mars lander crash, as well. Very interesting.

  • Johnny L.

    Workplace conflict is inevitable. There are just some people who naturally disrupts harmony no matter where they are. Some even result to mean tricks just so they can get even with a problem co-worker such as sending anonymous hate emails. I came across a site called where they let you actually do that stuff.

  • Yes, Johnny, people fight and use aggression to intimidate and harm others. Sometimes they are aggressive because they do not have any other tools to use to protect themselves. Sometimes they are aggressive because it has worked in the past and they hope it will continue to work. Sometimes they believe that might makes right and winners should destroy their opponents. The website you mention is dismaying.