One Overlooked Cause of Workplace Clashes

Posted by on May 31, 2013 in Leadership, Nonprofits

Workplace Clash Image

It’s a good thing boxing is not allowed at the office. Otherwise, more workplace squabbles would lead to busted noses.

OK, maybe not. But bad blood can wreck morale and derail productivity. And while team squabbles may have any number of causes, here’s one you may not have considered: your team’s hard wiring.

Yes, that’s what I said: hard wiring.

Merriam-Webster defines hard-wired this way: “genetically or innately predisposed.” Sometimes people fail to get along simply because they’re hard-wired differently and don’t quite know how to navigate those differences.

Here’s An Example

Years ago I learned about a workplace performance tool called TetraMap®. (TetraMap® is a registered trademark of TetraMap International.) The tool helps identify certain types of hard-wiring (my description–not theirs) and uses the elements Earth, Air, Water, and Fire to define those differences. I scored very high for Air and Earth, with Air coming out highest.

What does that mean?

Well, all that Air means that without even trying, my brain constantly gathers random bits of information and seeks to organize and systematize them. I naturally ask a million questions—which drives non-Airs wild—and my brain works to organize information into patterns. If there’s a problem in the pattern, my brain works to identify the fix. And I’m practically addicted to fixing things.

Earth, the hard-driving element, leaves me impatient with foolishness. Earth can be pushy, determined, and unyielding in trying to reach a goal. Earth-driven folk are likely to hurt your feelings (or push you aside) if you’re standing in the way of progress. Fortunately for those who have to live with me, I work continually to smooth the rough edges off my Earth.

Already, you see yourself or you’re thinking about somebody you know who’s a lot like me. Right? And like them, I don’t try to behave that way. Air/Earth is my default. But I do have to think about my behavior if I want to avoid clashing with other elements. Um, I mean, other people.

To The Point

“So, how does that help our office squabbles?” you ask. Here’s how. Chances are, at least some of your discord comes from hard-wiring. One kind of hard-wiring clashing with another. I won’t try to tell you everything about the Tetramap tool, but here’s the kind of insight the tool offers:

The Earths at work want NOTHING to stand in the way of progress and may seem harsh, rude, impatient, and pushy. The Waters, are careful and deliberate in their work, kind and considerate to others, and tend to make other people feel important and comfortable. If these two types don’t get a bit of coaching, Earth will scald Water’s tender feelings for moving too slowly. And Water will retreat from Earth’s bad temper and impatient demands.

If that’s not enough, the Airs want everything to make sense, to be well-organized, and to be thorough and right. Meanwhile, the Fires hate getting bogged down with stupid details (and they’re ALL stupid!) and want to try something new, creative, and daring! So what if every little thing isn’t double-checked and in the right place? Air thinks Fire needs a swift kick. Fire thinks Air needs an enema.

See Anybody You Know?

By now, you’re probably matching names and faces of folks you know with the scenarios I just described. And even though I’ve only offered a brief glimpse at the tool, I think you can see how TetraMap® can help. You can see one way of understanding why people automatically think and act differently from each other. Why even simple workplace interaction creates conflict, and why productivity flees.

What’s The Fix?

I propose 4 steps to help your clash-prone team work better together:

  • As a group, learn about each other’s skills, talents, and hard wiring
  • Next, explore the ways everyone’s hard wiring can be both a blessing and a curse to your team and to the organization
  • Plan specific new behaviors that tap your respective skills, talents, and hard wiring and turn the tendency to clash into opportunities to mesh, and finally
  • Promote and practice the new behaviors until your team escapes the gravitational pull of the old ones.

You can use the TetraMap® tool or another great tool called DiSC®, which helps your staff identify their own styles and better appreciate their colleagues’ contrasting styles. (DiSC® is a registered trademark of Inscape Publishing.) Or use any other tool that helps your staff understand their hard-wired differences and how to create synergy together rather than clanging discord.

My steps sound simple, and they are, but to make them work you’ll have to invest time, effort, and belief. Look for the right tools and facilitators, and set aside time for this work. And have a little faith: It’s easy to dismiss this as a solution if you see it as too touchy-feely or if you think “soft” issues are a waste of time. (By the way, if that’s the way you see it, you may be Earth. And your staff wants you to take my advice. Trust me. No, seriously.)

If your goal is quality results delivered by a motivated, effective team, maybe—just maybe—a hard wiring check-up is worth a try.


How does your staff address potential interpersonal snags? Please share below!

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