The permutations and computations of work-place conflict are as complex and confusing as the various dimensions of the personalities, value systems, training and experience of the people who work there. The information in this blog entry is designed to provide some insights into these various dimensions with the ultimate intention of demystifying them.

In my blog entitled, “Conflict In The Work Place”, I introduced the stories of (1) Eugene and Mary, who could not agree on how to use a $20,000 bonus their engineering company earned and (2) Marty, Susan and Joe, where Joe was continuously late due to a family tragedy and this tardiness was impacting the ability of the company to generate proposals in a timely fashion.

What happens when the participants in these stories aren’t able to work out their differences? Why can’t they just sit down and hammer out an agreement, an outsider to the situation might think. The obstacles to agreement are numerous:

  • Perhaps Eugene and Mary are siblings and their inability to compromise comes from a long history interaction that is ingrained in their subconscious minds.

  • Personality differences, which can often bring complementary strengths to a business relationship, can also serve as barriers when fundamental ways of looking at situations are in opposition. So, for example, if Eugene has an analytical personality, he may firmly believe in technical competency as the path to success, while Mary, who is the outgoing-people-connection personality, just knows that being able to connect person-to-person is the key to building a business.

  • Differing value systems can influence how Mary and Eugene each look at the situation. If Eugene is more conservative financially, while Mary is more adventurous, how will they ever see eye-to-eye on how to manage the firm’s finances.

  • Eugene is still furious that Mary gossiped about Eugene’s upcoming divorce.

  • Marty is conflict-avoidant and cannot handle the frustrations being expressed by both Susan and Joe.

  • Susan and Joe, both being single parents, are struggling individually to manage the demands of their respective jobs and family needs.

  • The workload at Marty’s company is increasing without a corresponding increase in qualified personnel to handle the increased workload.

  • Susan and Marty are having an illicit affair.

    And the stories abound. Something, however, is keeping Mary and Eugene in the first scenario and Marty, Susan and Joe in the second scenario in their respective “stuck places”.

    Regardless of why Eugene and Mary or Marty, Susan and Joe have locked horns on their respective situations, the clear result is that progress for their firms are being stymied. These individuals believe their way is the “right” way and the other person is “wrong”. Conceding to the other represents “losing”, so they get backed into opposite corners. The difficulties over this one issue begin to affect other aspects of their working relationship in subtle or not-so-subtle ways.

    Each person begins to look for ways to criticize the other person. Communication breaks down. Staff gets involved and is recruited to take sides. Someone leaves a smelly pizza box in the break room and all heck breaks loose. The secretaries are gossiping in the bathroom about irrelevant matters, such as – did you see that Mary was five minutes late today or that Eugene didn’t shave.

    After hours cocktail conversation revolves around the increasing discomfort because of the conflict between the parties. The staff hasn’t been informed of the origins of the disagreement, so speculation abounds.

    Three or four months have passed and the business is in turmoil. How did this happen? Why couldn’t Mary and Eugene have talked to each other in a way that would have brought about an action plan that satisfied both of their business interests? Why couldn’t Marty have better managed the working schedule of his two valued and valuable employees?

    These conflicts represent for each of these individuals a fundamental threat to his or her well-being that goes way beyond the superficial facts presented in this story.

    For example,

  • perhaps Mary has been undervalued or mistreated in previous business or personal relationships;

  • perhaps Eugene filed for bankruptcy in his 20’s and this situation is triggering fears of financial ruin;

  • perhaps Marty has just received a scary medical diagnosis;

  • perhaps Susan has found a new love and is pre-occupied with the romance; or

  • perhaps Joe’s grief is at its most heightened point.

    And – importantly – none of these individuals wants to reveal his or her fears to the other party or parties involved.

    Mediation provides a pathway to conversation. It empowers the parties to develop solutions in an environment where ideas are presented, considered and valued – and all in a confidential setting.

    If your business is experiencing unrest due to unresolved conflict, contact Keystone Conflict Solutions LLC at or (404) 314-7228 to learn if Mediation or Conflict Management Consulting might be beneficial in creating a smooth and efficient operation.