When groups are unfocused, have fuzzy boundaries, unclear roles or no accountability, interpersonal conflicts appear as a result. Not only does this cause unnecessary personality conflicts, it can also create challenges with coordination, motivation and competition. When these problems exist, personality conflicts can overshadow everything else.
There are two types of conflict and it is important to make a distinction between them. Task or ideological conflict has benefits when applied properly; personality conflicts have no benefits and can largely be prevented.
Ideological conflict/task conflict is the tossing around of different viewpoints in the right context that can lead to better decisions by evaluating ideas about ideology, strategies or tasks. This activity can only occur when people have clear boundaries, rules for engagement, good facilitators and a foundation of respect. If those elements are not in place this type of conflict can become personal and transition into personality conflicts.
Sometimes, people just don’t like each other and all you can do is keep it from being a distraction. Often, interpersonal clashes (subtle and obvious) that disrupt work and hinder performance are caused by a lack of leadership. That’s right, we said it. First, it is the job of the leadership to establish the foundation (focus, boundaries, hierarchy, etc.) so people don’t feel like they need to quietly compete. Then, leadership needs to establish when and how people can disagree about ideology, strategies or tasks. Finally, they need to facilitate those discussions in a way that doesn’t feed personality conflicts.
Does the term ‘conflict’ conjure up images of arguments, competition or quietly undermining others? It is impossible for people to work together towards a common goal without some conflict but it is how you manage that conflict that counts.