Dale Dauten’s The Corporate Curmudgeon column in the November 19, 2007 Hartford Business Journal was titled “Fomenting Mutual Respect.” In it he quotes a study that found that executives felt that some 18% of management time was wasted resolving staff personality conflicts. He went on to discuss the completely divergent reactions of two management pros: one said that too much conformity was a bad thing and more conflict was essential, the other said some of the best analytical and creative thinkers will be driven away by perpetual conflict. Dauten concludes that organizations need personality and personalities but not personality conflict.
As a mediator and someone who thinks about conflict and its causes and consequences, I would tweak that observation a bit. Personality conflicts are part of life and part of organizations — part of any setting where people are thrown together. The key is to handle conflict constructively: neither to create a situation without conflict (by assembling a group of people who are completely homogeneous and never disagree or by suppressing even healthy conflict in a diverse group) nor to create a situation where destructive conflict is the normal state of affairs.
Instead, any organization — be it a private firm, a not-for-profit company, or a family — needs to address conflict effectively. Mediation and related techniques can help.