Workplace Conflict and Psychological Splitting

By Ken Milling, ID Executive Coach

Many communication models assume the possibility of facilitating rational engagement with individuals in conflict. As many managers know, this is not always the case, because not all individuals engaged in conflict will conform to rational engagement, thus confounding our usual modus operandi.

In many cases of individuals not conforming to rational engagement we are dealing with ‘psychological splitting’, a deeply unconscious process of failing to fully integrate aspects of personality through various stages of psychological development. An individual who employs the manifesting dynamics of psychological splitting in communication often has a negative impact on individuals and/or a team in the workplace, causing fragmentation and ‘taking sides’ in ongoing conflict that moves further from solution.

A significant difficulty in engaging with individuals who are employing a dynamic of psychological splitting is that they have little or no insight into their behaviour, and their methods of communication will often be emotionally laden. They often have a ‘black or white’ perspective that can manifest as ‘you’re either with me or against me’. They will be defensive or accuse others of being overly aggressive, bullying, uncooperative and so on. Usually they will be unaware that the behaviour they are accusing others of is actually a part of their own behaviour; that in fact they are projecting onto others, elements of themselves that they have been unable to integrate into their personality.

Another significant difficulty in engaging with individuals who are employing a dynamic of psychological splitting is that the level of energy and time consumed in trying to find a resolution can be out of all proportion to that spent on more familiar levels of conflict.

When engaging with an individual who is employing a dynamic of psychological splitting it is important to avoid informal discussion and keep to organised meetings with a manager or HR representative present, so that you can maintain transparency of communication. It is important to keep to the facts and avoid emotionally laden rhetoric that might lead to reactive responses. If a mediation process is initiated, identify clear points for discussion. If the individual employing a dynamic of psychological splitting attempts to escalate the conflict during the mediation process, it is almost impossible not to be affected in some way at an emotional level, but it is possible to not engage in a reactive exchange. It is important to stick to your points of discussion and always bring the interaction back on track to the facts of the topic at hand.

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable and can be destructive, but if handled well it presents the opportunity for a constructive process that can lead to innovative positive solutions.

Psychological splitting is just one of the less obvious dynamics that are a barrier to conflict resolution. Integral Development has a number of Executive Coaches who specialise in dealing with conflict in the workplace that requires more in-depth understanding and strategies to achieve a resolution. For more information contact

Ken Milling
ID Executive Coach

No comments:

Post a Comment