Rationally, we can all differentiate between a sabre-tooth tiger and a ‘difficult’ coworker.
The problem is that our amygdala – our primordial, so-called ‘lizard brain’ – cannot always do the same.
So, when faced with workplace disagreements, we react in the same way we might to an ancient predator lying in ambush.
This phenomenon is referred to in psychology as an ‘amygdala hijack’ and put simply, is when our fight-or-flight response is triggered despite there being no serious threat. The modern manifestation of ‘fight or flight’? Raised voices and heated tempers, or even walking away. Whilst we can never truly beat this unconscious reaction, we can certainly manage it more effectively through the use of depersonalised language and an enhanced understanding of ourselves and others.
Managing difficult relationships is key to ensuring team success, but it is rarely as simple as it sounds in practice. Tuckman’s model of group development can help us recognise the importance of conflict in the natural progression of a team’s life cycle. As teams navigate the tumultuous ‘storming’ stage, in particular, conflict is not only inevitable, it is necessary – but only when it is approached in a positive, constructive way.