Understanding impression management-how people project themselves and perceive how others see them-helps an upper manager or administrator appreciate the personalities involved and their motivations within the conflict. Most people will put on their best “faces” when they need or want to impress others, but they can be selective of who they want to impress and use different faces for different situations. If a person comes into a position of authority over others, he or she may inadvertently impress an attitude of power that could possibly offend those under his or her control.
So, for instance, when an Administrator of a long-term care facility needs to help resolve a conflict between the Manager of Support Services, a male, and the Housekeeping Supervisor, a female, he should find out how the two of them regard one another. Both of them put on their best “faces” when they deal with him, the Administrator. In all of his interactions with the two of them, they are courteous, kind, respectful and very appreciative of their jobs.
However, the Administrator soon finds out from the Housekeeping Supervisor that the Manager of Support Services does not treat her in the same regard as he treats his boss. She claims that from the first day he introduced himself to her, she could feel the air of authority he tried to impress on her. So she started pushing back and did not like having this person treating her with such authority and little regard.
This scenario could be played out in many organizations where middle managers put on a great “face” to their authorities, but treat those who are under them with less regard. In order to be able to resolve conflicts in a productive manner, administrators or directors overseeing various levels of authority need to see and understand how everyone in their organization manages impressions.
As conflict managers, we can play a role in preventing discord by supporting a culture within our workplaces that fosters communication and clarifies perceptions or impressions. A work environment that is open and committed to understanding how different personalities cope with and manage their impressions is inevitably a healthier work environment. In some cases, getting to this point takes a lot of work and many discussions with various individuals. In the end, this work pays off in preventing misinterpretations, miscommunication and conflict.
Conflict is a part of human nature. It can be productive or destructive. How we manage that conflict makes all the difference in the outcome.