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  • Writer's pictureAllegra

A Surprising Source of Conflict at work

What do you think tends to spark off a conflict situation at work?

And let's remind ourselves that the stakes of conflict can potentially be serious and even have life changing consequences, particularly if someone feels that they need to leave the organisation if the conflict isn’t resolved.

Maybe you think the answer is perhaps personality clashes or communication problems? Of course, you’d be right but there is another which you may not be so familiar with…

In the world of coaching and mediation I often get the privilege to do psychometric assessments on my clients. This is an endless source of fascination and my preferred tool is the well-respected NEO-PI-3 psychometric published by Hogrefe.

I often use this ‘big five’ psychometric with people who find themselves in the middle of a conflict situation. It looks at emotional reactivity (including levels of anger), agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and extraversion. And the new mysterious source for conflict? Answer: ‘Openness to imagination…’ hmm…. That sounds innocuous! Think again. I believe that it is potentially incendiary.

Let me explain. Some people have a vivid imagination and active fantasy life and inner world. And there are also people who are pragmatists and prefer to keep their minds on the task in hand. Neither are intrinsically ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – just different.

Imagination is used to answer the question: 'what if...?' to create a place in the mind to explore and play with ideas. By contrast, the analytical thinking of people who are low in imagination is deliberate and its purpose is to select the right idea grounded in reality, not the imagination.

It is likely that successful entrepreneurs and visionary leaders have high levels of openness to imagination. They may:

·        be able to imagine future change and in new complex creative directions

·        be able to imagine other people's reactions/behaviour in scenarios - giving them the edge in later negotiations

·        be comfortable with learning from mistakes and experimenting

·        lack a 'groundedness' in practical reality

·        lack an ability to know how ideas are going to be implemented

·        lack logical analytical thinking

·        be a 'dreamer' not a doer

·        find that the line between reality and their imagination is blurred

·        embark on plans without enough prior investigation which do not work or have financial consequences

By contrast, people who are low on openness to imagination tend to:

·     prefer to refer to experiences, reality and knowledge, what exists

·     like to consider what has worked before

·     have difficulty imagining the unique new concepts

·     be held back from strategic leadership by not being perceived as forward thinking

·     be perceived as lacking vision in strategic leadership

·     may not immediately understand the potential of creative ideas and see risks and challenges instead

·        have friction with others who aren't as practical as they are

·        perceive 'flights of fancy' as a waste of time

·        have difficulty imagining another person's perspective or behaviour if it's different from their own or if it's new

·        not like to make mistakes

In the workplace, it can work well if individuals with high openness to imagination bounce ideas off the individuals with low imagination to 'reality check' them. The individuals with low openness to imagination tend to enjoy problem solving and critiquing the ideas.

Or it can spiral into a negative spiral where individuals with high openness to imagination find the individuals with low imagination impossible to work with because they perceive them as continually clipping the wings of their new imaginative ideas. The individuals with low imagination are frustrated with the 'fanciful' ideas of their colleagues with high openness to imagination and think that they are time wasters.

Identifying this fairly common dynamic and using targeted behavioural coaching and mediation can be an incredibly effective way to move a dysfunctional relationship to a functional one.

And that’s where I come in.

I show individuals with high imagination how to channel their imaginative skills in productive ways. And I encourage the individuals with low imagination to understand the value of an imagination in themselves and others.

Experiencing or witnessing conflict in the workplace now? Could this be the reason?

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