When I was about ten years old I spent a lot of time in the woods. I was fascinated by the wonders of nature and had a small library of books on the subject. I used to love to turn over logs to find salamanders. One time I was out in the woods with a group of other boys. We turned over a log and found a red backed salamander. Almost immediately, one of the boys exclaimed, “check it out, it’s a lizard”. I mentioned that it was actually a salamander. All the other boys agreed with each other that it was a lizard. I was told that I was stupid. I tried to make my case, but was only subjected to more ridicule. I knew that I was right, but I knew that the conversation was going nowhere. I was only ten years old and did not have the skills to manage the communicative power dynamics that were occurring in the group. I just let it go.
The above story illustrates toxic relational dynamics that are not just part of childhood interactions. These types of interactions can also occur in situations of adult workplace conflict. The “salamanders” that we see in the workplace are data driven ideas and decisions. The “lizards” are inaccurate assumptions and uninformed decisions that people sometimes make. Toxicity occurs when the hierarchical relational dynamics are such that an uninformed person’s ideas are seen as being correct only because that person has more power within a hierarchical structure (Cheng & Tracy, 2014) (Gilbert, et al., 2012). This person may propose “lizards” because they have not done the appropriate research. The “salamanders” may be ignored or even ridiculed.
Managing conflict in the workplace is of utmost concern to the health of any workplace environment. Making good decisions based on accurate data is just as important. Groupthink and power dynamics can often lead to poor decisions about conflict (Schwenk, 1984). Strategies to resolve conflict in the workplace must be fair and employ strategic tools that allow an organization to make effective decisions. Respect for dissenting views and divergent thinking are important to make the process as objective as possible (Schwenk, 1984). In the Relational course of the Mandt System, an entire chapter is devoted specifically to address the process of navigating miscommunication, misperception, and disagreement so that organizations have a fair process to make objective decisions in stressful situations so and discern the “salamanders” from the “lizards”.
John Windsor – Director of Technical Curricula
Cheng, J. T., & Tracy, J. L. (2014). Toward a unified science of hierarchy: Dominance and prestige are two fundamental pathways to human social rank. In J. T. Cheng, J. L. Tracy, & C. Anderson (Eds.), The psychology of social status (p. 3–27).
Gilbert, J. A., Carr-Ruffino, N., Ivancevich, J. M., Konopaske, R. (2012). Toxic versus cooperative behaviors at work: The role of organizational culture and leadership in creating community centered organizations. International Journal of Leadership Studies, 7(1), 29-47.
Schwenk, C. R. (1984). The use of devil’s advocates in strategic decision making. College of Commerce and Business Administration University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign