Your Staff Conflict Probably Isn’t Over What Everyone Thinks It Is!

Posted on by in Attitude, Communication, Leadership, Managing Talent, Relationships

Over the past month, I’ve talked with several clients about a common problem, staff conflicts. And in each case, the primary cause of the conflicts has been the same (even though the businesses are all in radically different fields) And even though the issues in each of these businesses have been completely different, I still maintain that the primary cause in each of them has been the same. And what it that cause? Answer: Personality differences.

Let me explain. In my former career, I used to pastor a large church–and unfortunately, churches are rather famous for their conflicts and splits. Early on in my career I would get frustrated that "people" couldn’t see what I could see. In return, they would be frustrated with me because I wanted to "move too fast," or "didn’t want to wait until all the data came in."

However, in the midst of all this, in the early 1990’s, one day I ended up re-reading Keirsey and Bates’ classic book on the Myers Briggs Personality Inventory
(MBTI) entitled, Please Understand Me–and the lights came on. What we were "fighting" over wasn’t really what we were "fighting" over. We were "fighting" over how we see the world differently.

For example, I’m a classic INTJ. The N in the Myers Briggs typology means that I’m an iNtuitive. Intuitives go by their gut. They are future oriented. They sense something to be true and then act on that. However, most people are S’s. S’s, in the MBTI world are Sensors. Sensors need facts and data. They like to touch it, see it, hear it, smell it, and taste it before they act. Oh, and their orientation is towards the past (vs. the future of an N).

In other words, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that given just about any issue, N’s and S’s are probably going to have some conflict. In the case above, as a classic N, I’d sense something in my gut and "know" it was the right thing to do. And based on my past experience, I was confident that I’d be proven right if I had more data–but why wait. In fact, one of my favorite lines, which I stole from an architect I once worked with is, "You can believe me know or you can believe me later, but you’re going to believe me." Spoken like a true INTJ. Note: unlike the architect who told me that during a conflict we had, my pastoral training has instructed me to only use that line in moments of levity :-)

However, most of the people I was working with were S’s. And being true to their nature, they wanted more data and distrusted someone who didn’t need the same amount of data they did. Furthermore,based on the difference of our orientations (future vs. past) they would often think, "Why should we start another project when we haven’t completed the last one you talked us into?"

In other words, the conflict was almost never over the issue we thought it was.
It was over how we all saw the world differently (and  we’ve only scratched the surface  of the N-S conflict, let alone the E-I conflict, the T-F conflict and the J-P conflict–all of which are huge).

So I’d encourage you to take a look at your current conflicts. How many of them are caused over personality differences? Not the simple ones like, "I value beauty" and "You value frugality." But the big inherent ones over how we see the world differently. My guess is that once you start using this grid, you’ll be surprised at how many of them can be traced directly back to personality differences. I’ve been watching this for a decade and a half now and it’s everywhere. In fact, I bet you can already begin to see how it’s all around you as well

Note: If you’re not familiar with Myers-Briggs, I’d encourage you to pick up a book on it and get familiar with the categories. Please Understand Me, The Art of Speedreading People, and Type Talk are three on my favorites.

Final thought for today. Just so we’re clear. Types aren’t meant to be prescriptive, but descriptive. Just because someone is a certain type, doesn’t mean that have to act that way. It just means that, in general, this is how they’ll act. So back to my case. Just because I prefer to go with my gut doesn’t mean I can’t accumulate and supply data to the people I’m leading (even though I don’t "need" it).

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