WorkTraits Insight: Identity and Conflict Awareness

By Mark Vickers, Ph.D.

Identity is made of three elements:

1) Who the person is told he or she is (this usually comes from a job description, a title, or what a supervisor has told the individual).

2) Who the person thinks he or she is (this usually has to do with how a person sees themselves in their position or where they see themselves in terms of social status)

3) Who they want to become (this usually has to do with the dreams and aspirations of the person in terms of promotion)

When one of these elements becomes distorted or threatened by someone at work, even unconsciously, conflict occurs. The conflict may not be immediate. There may not be harsh words or any sense of harm but nonetheless, a change has taken place. Most of the time the change comes in the form of a different attitude towards the other person. We readjust our interactions with the person to protect ourself. We think they are going to take something from us (our position, our opportunity, our status).

Over time, if we do not address this conflict it affects virtually all of our relationships at work. This can spiral into a sense that “no one is on our side,” and often leads us to change jobs.

Being aware of how our identity is affected by co-workers is the first, (and perhaps the most important) step in dealing with conflict and maintaining a harmonious engaged work life. In my next post I will discuss how to resolve identity conflict.


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