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The Downside of Diversity

Teamwork in the office can bring conflict, particularly in
diverse groups.

More and more companies are asking employees to leave the isolation
of their cubicles to collaborate with coworkers, spawning innovative
ideas, increased productivity—and, surprisingly, friction.

According to psychologist Debra Connelley, increasing diversity and
team-based work structures can spark office conflict. This is typical,
she says, of any environment in which very different types of people are
forced to interact closely while attempting to assert their own goals and
personal values.

Ethnicity, religion and gender are just a few of the major factors
that lead people to clash over opposing viewpoints. Even one's work or
education background can influence one's personal perspective. People
tend to shut out information that doesn't mesh with their own beliefs,
especially when it comes from someone they don't like or trust, says
Connelley. Moreover, people define problems differently and attribute the
causes to different sources.

But employers can watch for warning signs that conflict is
mounting: Arguments arise regularly during meetings; a work team fails to
reach a consensus; team productivity wanes in comparison to individual
output; or employees make themselves unavailable for group meetings by
taking a sick day or booking appointments during those times.

Bosses can boost poor group morale by training employees in
conflict management as well as by emphasizing the importance of
communication with coworkers. Most importantly, employees must learn to
be flexible. Says Connelley: "People have to learn to respond to others'
perspectives not with a kneejerk reaction but by waiting to hear out
information before they make a decision."