Competition at work: Two strategies from Mars and from Venus

Competition at work: Two strategies from Mars and from Venus

Do men and women deal differently with conflicts at work? It depends. But homogeneous teams usually fight more aggressively. And it's the superiors' job to mediate and reconcile.

Of course you can't say all men or women share a certain quality. But men often do fight tougher than women, more straightly and sharply, sometimes missing the point. By contrast women rather deal with conflicts silently and wait longer before they enter an open confrontation. They may restrain emotions that suddenly break free and escalate the situation unnecessarily.

Also most women take disputes more personally than men. To a great extent this may be result from the still prevailing gender stereotypes, as a women usually have to invest more effort and commitment to obtain a leading position. Boys generally grow up with more team sports and less responsibility than girls, thus men are more likely to take conflicts as a rather sportive than personal matter.

And does one of the sexes seek conflicts more than the other? Women are often attributed to more developed social skills. Everybody sure had an opposite experience too, thus it seems handling well a conflict is not a question of sex, but rather of individual temper and character. Cat fights therefore are not much more than only a male cliché. Disagreement arises as quickly among men too, if not more often. And both genders are as tempted to elevate them on a personal level, for instance by questioning the opponent's competence.

Experience shows that mixed teams are rather able to suppress conflicts or not even let them to emerge. A good team leader is able to deescalate conflicts by approaching the loudest proponents of the argument and bringing everybody back to objectivity and relevance. Sometimes it even takes to codify certain rules of discussion and conflict management. An often source of disagreement is envy or unfulfilled ambitions. In such case it may be useful to include the opponents in one team to make them share both the effort and the success of the project. This helps them understand and know each other better also on a personal level.

When conflicts arise within a team it's of course the leader or superior who is responsible to bring everybody back at the table again. And the best way to solve problems is to prevent them, in this case by creating an atmosphere where all team members feel comfortable and valued. A good boss is able to maintain a strictly professional and unbiased approach to his or her co-workers, praise them for their successes and encourage the team to present its results together.

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