Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 15, Issue 12;   March 25, 2015: Creating Toxic Conflict: Part I

Creating Toxic Conflict: Part I

by

Many managers seem to operate as if their primary goal is to create toxic conflict among their subordinates. Here's a collection of methods for sowing toxic conflict that can help bad managers become worse managers.
The flagship store of the Market Basket supermarket chain

The flagship store of the Market Basket supermarket chain, in Chelsea, Massachusetts. The privately held chain, which serves Eastern New England, was embroiled in a decades-long family feud between the descendants of Telemachus DeMoulas and George DeMoulas, who had purchased the business from their father in 1954. The two brothers each owned 50% of the business, and the arrangement worked well. But when ownership passed to their survivors, trouble began. The first lawsuit was filed in 1990, setting off a chain of hostile legal actions that finally ended on August 27, 2014, following a strike by most employees in support of the re-hiring of the then-recently-fired President of the company, Arthur T. DeMoulas, son of Telemachus. The final settlement was achieved when Arthur T.'s buyout offer was accepted by the opposing side of the family. More about the history of Market Basket

This tale is a family tragedy, of course. One cannot know for certain, but one possible cause is the 50/50 ownership structure the DeMoulas brothers created. It is one form of the technique of having "overlapping or ambiguous job descriptions" listed in this essay.

Working for a bad manager is frustrating, but working for a truly bad manager drives you absolutely insane. Almost daily, truly bad managers shock their subordinates with unexpectedly breathtaking examples of incompetence, stupidity, and malice. Being a truly bad manager requires energy, devotion, and limitless creativity. Managers aspiring to be truly bad need a comprehensive resource of tools and techniques for driving subordinates insane.

This short essay can't possibly be a comprehensive resource, but it does outline methods for achieving one of the truly bad manager's strategic objectives: creating toxic conflict. Here is Part I of a catalog of techniques for setting subordinates against one another, written as advice for the truly bad manager.

Have overlapping or ambiguous job descriptions
Ensure that the job descriptions of subordinates are written explicitly enough or ambiguously enough that several of them can be read so as to cover some of the same responsibilities. For extra zing, overlap those responsibilities that are most valued, and most likely to be regarded as bases for self-esteem or career advancement.
Set ambiguous, immeasurable performance objectives
To motivate your subordinates to do whatever they can to destroy each other, you want them to be anxious about their own performance. In performance reviews, set objectives that are unclear, ambiguous, and immeasurable. If they also aren't achievable, so much the better.
Play favorites
Show favoritism in making assignments, allocating resources, and distributing credit and praise. Be consistent about confiding in some people, and not others. If you have a small circle of favorites, those outside it will quickly learn to resent those inside it.
Communicate ineffectively
Whenever you communicate anything important, do it ineffectively, and hurriedly depart for an important meeting, off-site, or vacation. Leave them wondering what you really meant. Let them argue it out amongst themselves.
Use harassment, blaming, and scapegoating…judiciously
Repeatedly harassing, blaming, and scapegoating a few specific individuals provides a means of shifting responsibility for failures from yourself or from your favorites onto a few people. Their careers are already in ruins, so it does them no real harm. But it does provide a pattern for other subordinates to use when they need to evade responsibility.
Deny having made previous commitments
When someone Being a truly bad manager
requires energy, devotion,
and limitless creativity
claims that you agreed to do or not do something, and you later didn't do or did do it, deny having agreed to do or not do it. Claim confidently that you thought you were just discussing doing or not doing it. And make sure one of your favorites backs you up.
Overload some people and underload others
Distribute work unevenly. Make sure some people have to work, well, not 24/7, but maybe 19/6 or something like that, while others can just kick back. Keep stress levels at maximum.

We'll continue next time with many more ideas for creating toxic conflict. Next in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Creating Toxic Conflict: Part II  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenwtIGBTEzutZrmSpMner@ChacGuEehWTwvcPVwIXaoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Conflict Management:

Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill on the portico of the Soviet Embassy at the Teheran ConferenceHostile Collaborations
Sometimes collaboration with people we hold in low regard can be valuable. If we enter a hostile collaboration without first accepting both the hostility and the value, we might sabotage it outside our awareness, and that can render the effort worthless — or worse. What are the dynamics of hostile collaborations, and how can we do them well?
Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (Democrat of Wisconsin)Confronting the Workplace Bully: Part II
When bullied, one option is to fight back, but many don't, because they fear the consequences. Confrontation is a better choice than many believe — if you know what you're doing.
A New England stone wallHow to Misunderstand Somebody Else
Misunderstandings are commonplace at work, as in most of the rest of Life. At work, they might be even more commonplace, because at work it sometimes seems that people are actually trying to misunderstand. Here's a handy guide for those who want to get better at misunderstanding others.
Caneel with a close friend (me)Why Others Do What They Do
If you're human, you make mistakes. A particularly expensive kind of mistake is guessing incorrectly why others do what they do. Here are some of the ways we get this wrong.
President Obama meets with Congressional leadersEthical Debate at Work: Part II
Outcomes of debates at work sometimes favor one party, not only at the expense of the other or others, but also at the expense of the organization. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for steering debates toward wise outcomes.

See also Conflict Management and Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Balancing talk time and the value of the contributionComing March 29: Virtual Blowhards
Controlling meeting blowhards is difficult enough in face-to-face meetings, but virtual meetings present next-level problems, because techniques that work face-to-face are unavailable. Here are eight tactics for controlling virtual blowhards. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
kudzu enveloping a Mississippi landscapeAnd on April 5: Listening to Ramblers
Ramblers are people who can't get to the point. They ramble, they get lost in detail, and listeners can't follow their logic, if there is any. How can you deal with ramblers while maintaining civility and decorum? Available here and by RSS on April 5.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenNLiVuuqzaRCYLHsEner@ChactdlPgfFtlRsnfPsFoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

Conflict Resolution Skills for Leaders
ConflConflict Resolution Skills for Leadersict is inherent in collaborative work. When conflict is constructive, it produces better outcomes. When it's destructive, it can be an insurmountable obstacle to success. In this program, we explore the connections between the outcomes of collaboration and conflict in both of its forms. And we emphasize the skills needed most by leaders. The leader's task is to manage conflict so as to ensure that the group achieves its objective with its capacity to collaborate intact, or even enhanced. Rick Brenner shows team leaders and team sponsors the techniques they need to manage team conflict for relationship safety and better outcomes. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Influencing Outcomes Without Authority
Your Influencing Outcomes Without Authorityability to influence others — whether upward, downward, laterally, or within a team — always depends on both the quality of your relationships with the people you influence, and on your perception and their perception of your personal power. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you the techniques for making things happen not by using formal organizational power, but by using informal, personal power. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Strategies for Leading Teams in Hard Times
When Strategies for Leading Teams in Hard Timesa project team is on task, the contributions of leaders are important, and little noticed. Sometimes the team encounters unexpected difficulty, or requirements change, or budgets are reduced, or any of a number of other things might happen. In these cases, the leader must make or facilitate decisions about how to respond or how to revise the plan. We get through it somehow. Hard times are something else altogether. Despondency, disillusionment, resource shortages, unexpected and severe failure of the plan, and toxic conflict can erode morale. How can leaders deal with such situations? Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Strategies for Technical Debt: A Workshop for Enterprise Leaders
TechnTechnical Debt Management for Enterprise Leadersical debt is more than mere IT jargon. It's a metaphor that refers to the accumulation of technical artifacts that really ought to be retired, replaced, rewritten, re-implemented, or, if absent, created. We can find technical debt in almost any system, including those that seem to be working well. So what's the problem? The problem is the "interest charges." Systems carrying technical debt are more difficult to maintain, more difficult to extend or enhance, and more difficult to use, than they would be if we "retired" the debt. This engaging and eye-opening program points the way to a path that leads your organization out of technical debt, to make it more adaptable, more transformable, and more agile. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.