Perception versus Reality
Here is some more from that Sloan article that talks about good conflict and bad conflict. Although I don’t think their distinction between “task” and “relationship” conflict was clear enough, that wasn’t the main point of the article. Most of it was about perceptions versus reality.
When it comes to both task and relationship conflicts, the study results showed that behavior is driven by perception rather than reality. Specifically, the greater the perceived difference in organizational values between the members of a top management team and their CEO, the greater the conflict. Interestingly, any actual dissimilarity was not a factor. In other words, perception becomes reality in terms of driving behavior—people respond to their beliefs about the differences between themselves and others rather than to any true differences.
Their study also found that among senior management teams, there was FREQUENTLY a gap between what senior managers thought the CEO was valuing, versus what the CEO were actually valuing. So perceptions drive behavior and perceptions are frequently inaccurate. No wonder we keep getting stuck in these “bad” relationship conflicts!
That’s why one of the authors’ suggestions is to establish an atmosphere were misperceptions are clarified quickly through “frequent interaction.” That’s the trick. You have to develop the capacity for more effective interaction (communication) for this to work. Frequent interaction, when done poorly, will actually create relationship conflict.