Conflict can take many forms, not all of which are obvious. There's the traditional knockdown drag-out, of course, but there are also much subtler forms of dispute: the passive-aggressive nod intended to indicate agreement when in fact that is far from the case; the saccharine smile that belies intense bitterness and resentment; the silent treatment, in which one party simply refuses to acknowledge the other's presence; the long-standing rivalry that when ignited-often over the most trivial of issues-makes the Hatfields and the McCoys look like a family reunion.
Conflict can also have many different outcomes. For some it is a creative and dynamic force that can move the parties involved-perhaps even the whole organization-to a new level of productivity. Others see it as a necessary evil that you can only grin and bear and hope that everything turns out okay. Still others see conflict as devastating, something to be avoided at all costs because of the long-lasting ill will that can ensue; for them there are no benefits at all to be derived from the process.
Conflict, like it or not, is inevitable as long as humans try to coexist in the workplace. While very few healthy individuals actively go out looking for a fight, fights seem to find us anyway. Our differing values, opinions, definitions, and perceptions set us up for seemingly endless possibilities to have misunderstandings or differences with others. Try as we may we can't avoid such conflicts-at least, not for long.
The problem starts with the fact that different types define "conflict" in different ways. One person's "making a case" can be another's "starting an argument." One person's relatively mindless statement can be viewed as a thrown gauntlet by someone else. Your "simple misunderstanding" can be our "major affront."
One might think that certain types would have distinct abilities to deal with conflict. Thinking-Judgers, for example, would probably be good at remaining objective and unemotional during a stressful encounter Extraverts, because of their verbal prowess, would be able to smooth-talk their way through almost any situation. The relative silence of Introverts, on the other hand, would be likely to lower the intensity of a heated situation.
In our experience, though, no type excels at dealing with conflict. In fact, for whatever reason, conflict tends to bring out the worst in all of us. Thinking-Judgers, for example, tend to become even more rigid, not only convinced that they are right but closed to alternative points of view. Extraverts, instead of being smooth talkers, can become loud and needlessly aggressive. Introverts can often simply close the door on the outer world, all but shutting out any communication that could lead to resolution.
So we've become resigned to muddling through conflict, using whatever techniques have carried us through in the past, for better or for worse.
It's our inability to cope with conflict effectively that causes companies to spend great sums of money to bestow upon their employees "conflict resolution skills." Please understand: Not all of these programs are worthless, or even bad. Many offer valuable insights into the process of dealing with conflicts and of avoiding them in the first place But there is often a rather large gap between the theory preached by many of the purveyors of these programs and reality. Their ten or twenty conflict-resolution principles, while perfectly valid and insightful, may not always be applicable to the almost endless array of conflicts that arise.
When Similarities Differ
So far we've concentrated on what happens when people of opposite preferences disagree-Introverts vs. Extraverts, Sensors vs. iNtuitives, and so forth But a great deal of conflict arises when people share the same preferences and thus magnify each other's strengths. (Remember the Second Commandment: Your strength maximized becomes a liability.) And while you'd think that people who are alike could get along, that's often far from the case.
Consider two Extraverts-each talking over the other, with neither hearing the other. As the volume goes up, listening goes down. Or consider two Judgers-each with a set of unbendable rules. One's definition of "neatness" may differ substantially from the other's. While one party' has straightened up and knows exactly where things are, the other finds the situation lacking-or simply different than expected. Both parties know they're right, setting themselves up for a no-win argument. If both Js are Introverts, the dispute can lead to a long period of mutual avoidance. If they're both Es, it can lead to an escalating exchange of bad feelings.
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