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Resolving severe personality conflicts

Feelings Aside
Conflict Solving
Collaboration
Toxic Employee
Toxic Atmospheres
Health / Stress / Burn-Out

16 April, 2018

David Murray
David Murray

Cofounder at Confirm

David mediated many internal conflicts between executives and other team members at his organization using proven counseling techniques.

Problem

At almost every organization, "personality conflicts" can be inevitable. These conflicts can sometimes be so severe that it literally results in more bureaucracy as people implement new processes just to avoid or add additional "checklist steps" for an untrusted individual. These relationships often get covered up with people "being professional" while their resentments continue to build, often eventually resulting in an explosion.

Actions taken

Through years of personal therapy and some applied psychology training, I've grown familiar with a set of techniques, often used in relationship counseling, that are very effective in helping address head-on conflicts between two individuals. I used these techniques to facilitate 1-on-1s (with me as a third party helping) in which each individual, even if not in the engineering organization, can speak openly and be heard. The technique is quite simple: the first person shares what's been going on for them, focusing not on what happened, but on how they felt. The other person then describes what they heard in their own words until the first person acknowledges that they feel heard. Then the roles are reversed. This is repeated until both people feel that they have heard each other. While no process is full-proof, I've found several relationships transformed by two willing participants coming together to practice this technique. This is why some people at my company like to call me "Chief Therapy Officer" (or Deanna Troi :) ).

Lessons learned

Whether we like it or not, by shutting off our emotions and "being professional", our resentments do not go away. Organizations can survive with these dysfunctions (many large organizations have these political challenges in spades), but those organization that can have employees listening to each other with empathy until they are truly heard are much more likely to function without excessive levels of bureaucracy getting created to work around these relationship dysfunctions.

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