Common Sense Services

"Tribal" confict in the workplace

I have had a couple of cases recently where clients have used the word “clique” or “gang” to describe the situation that has led them to contact me. They have gone on to describe workplaces where the “team” is no more but instead two (or more) factions have developed and are vying for control and influence. At one end of the spectrum this feels childish and is an irritation. At the other end it is hostile, menacing and can, in time, give rise to full on bullying or harassment.

If this feels familiar then take some comfort at from knowing you are not alone.  Tribal warfare is a common and routine part of workplace conflict. It arises from our human need to feel connected and supported and develops when, instead of addressing an issue directly with the other human being concerned, we seek affirmation and comfort from a third party. That third party, often someone to whom we are close, has great power. They can give us good advice, maybe suggesting we speak calmly with the person who has offended or hurt us. Or, in their desire to make us feel better, they can say something along the lines of “O! You poor thing! You can’t let them get away with that!”

The next thing that happens is usually that the other person directly concerned becomes aware that they are being spoken about/ having daggers looked at them by “those two over there” and seeks affirmation and comfort from their own third party. If that results in another “O! You poor thing! You can’t let them get away with that!” Then, as if by magic, we have two tribes, all ready to grow, drawing more and more people into the conflict zone.

It’s a natural and normal part of being a human being but, unless we are very astute, it can lead in a very destructive direction.

So, what’s the answer then Milee?

I am so glad you asked. The answer, I believe, is awareness. Awareness of how conflict starts and how it can grow. Awareness of the opportunities we all have each day to feed a conflict or to help resolve one. Awareness of the words that can help people fix things and the words that can deepen and strengthen the damage.

That’s why we have developed a whole range of awareness raising sessions geared for senior leaders, team leaders, human resources professionals and shop floor workers.

Our sessions are an engaging, energetic and fun way to enable your workforce to recognise, manage and resolve their own daily conflicts long before they get to tribal warfare. Give us a call to find out more.