Different Strokes for Different Folks can Cause Trouble

How Perception Impacts Workplace Conflict

In 2015 a survey was done by the CIPD in which employees in UK were asked about interpersonal conflict in the workplace. Nearly 40% of the interviewed employees reported issues during the course of the previous year. This is a hard pill to swallow for employees, and especially for managers who are responsible for keeping things on an even keel.

Workplace ConflictThree Questions

The findings of the survey brought three very important questions up:
• Where does the conflict come from?
• What is fuelling the conflict?
• What can minimise the conflict?

Although the consequences of conflict can be riddled with complexities it can almost always be mapped back to a single, simple truth – we see the world differently. World renowned entrepreneur Tony Robbins said, ‘To effectively communicate, we must realise that we are all different in the way we perceive the world, and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.’

The Perception Paradigm

Have you ever been in a conflict situation in which your perception is completely different to how somebody else who was also there sees it? Don’t worry, it is quite natural – everybody sees the world in their own personal way. This is called the perception paradigm. Although contradicting perceptions can cause problems, there are ways in which conflict can be managed when it happens. There are three basic steps to take that will help you develop an understanding of the impact individual perceptions have on conflict.

1. Recognise that your reality is the same as everybody else’s
Have you ever been surprised or even confused that your opinion of somebody is completely different to what someone else thinks of them? Remember all your old school teachers. There is a good chance that you liked the teachers who gave the subjects that you liked. If you hated History, there is a good chance that you had a negative perception of the teacher – whereby somebody who enjoyed the subject would likely have had a more positive perception of the very same person. It is important to acknowledge that many personal factors influence perception, and that we are all very different.

2. Ask yourself whether your interpretation of a situation is respectful
Perception does not just go one way – it involves your perception of others, and their perception of you. And, different perceptions create different reactions. While you may see somebody’s reaction as completely inappropriate, they may feel justified in their actions, and vice versa. It is important to remember that we not only all see things differently, but we also respond differently – and this has to be respected. It may be difficult, but try to remember that both parties are probably not intentionally being difficult. Mutual respect and acceptance makes it easier to resolve conflict.

3. Adjust communications to bridge the gap
Just like we perceive things differently, we also have different abilities. While some of us are professionally brilliant, we fall short on communication skills. Simple reflection exercises can help bridge the gap in antagonistic relationships. Write out columns titled ‘like me’ and ‘not like me’ and columns titled, ‘do more of’ and ‘do less of’. Use these columns to identify aspects of the parties involved and note the differences. This will not only highlight differences, but also illuminate shared perceptions. This creates a foundation from which to launch successful reconnection.

These steps are invaluable in recognising where the conflict is coming from, what is fuelling it and how it can be minimised. From here, mutual understanding can grow and flourish.