I’ve got a theory. Not a theory like the theory of relatively, but in some ways, not far off. My theory is this: Every conflict has its roots in a difference of thresholds.
Think about it; you’re frustrated because your partner left dishes in the sink. Your partner is upset because the house is “a mess,” so what’s the big deal about the dishes in the sink? You’re upset because you high school junior got a C on a math test. Your partner couldn’t care less about one lousy “C.” And now you are mad that he/she isn’t mad. It’s all a matter of thresholds. In this case, thresholds being in different places. What’s your threshold for wait times in a restaurant, poor customer service, or typos in reports? If it’s not the same, or at least similar to, the people with which you share those experiences, you could be in for some stress, which leads to conflict.
Stress, Friction and Conflict
Try this, pick a topic and ask your spouse to write down how much is enough, or how much is too much. Make sure you do it too, and then swap notes. For example, how many dishes are ok to leave in the sink? “A glass here or there doesn’t bother me” vs. “a sink full of dishes doesn’t bother me at all.” Try another example, vacation, how much time on the beach, at a cabin in the woods, visiting family, or on a cruise, do you need to be satisfied? “I can tolerate about a day on the beach before I start to go crazy from boredom” vs. “I need at least a long weekend twice a year to feel sane.” Here’s another one: What’s your threshold for comfort around the unknown? It’s not so much about whether you need a plan, or prefer to be spontaneous, but more about what you can tolerate when things aren’t the way you prefer them. How far and for how long can you be outside of your preferred zone before the discomfort causes stress? Stress leads to friction, and friction to conflict.
The above examples ring true for most people in a committed relationship, but what about in the workplace? During the hiring process, a proper screening process not only addresses the qualifications and demonstrated past performance of a top performer, but should also address the culture fit for an employee. For example, instead of trying to determine from the host of tools that are out there if this person is driven, willing to go the extra mile, and is motivated to put in long hours, there should be some magic way of finding how much extra effort is TOO much extra effort.
Where’s your threshold for:
- Working on weekends
- Being expected to respond to emails after hours
- Late night meetings that keep you away from your family
What about your threshold around:
- Your boss missing meetings
- Foul language in the workplace
- For giving and receiving feedback
- Training & development
- Doing work outside of your core competencies
Was It Higher or Lower
Think about the last disagreement you experienced, at work or home. What was the central topic? Was the other person’s threshold higher or lower than yours? Send us your threshold story – With your permission, we might choose to use them as examples in our REAL-ationships Program for Leaders.
Want to assess your team’s stress level and preemptively strike before it evolves into friction or conflict? Let us know – we have an insightful tool created just for that!
Share your experience or request more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.