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    Feb 05, 2016    |   Aidan Millar

Type and Sources of Conflict

frog-48237_1280 (2)Conflict at work occurs for a host of reasons that are not limited to type. However, in one of my master classes dedicated to understanding Type and Conflict, I address the idea that in many cases, differences in type can lead to some conflict in the workplace simply as a byproduct of differences in communication style, information gathering and decision making. These differences often lay groundwork for further assumptions and misinterpretation of intentions – a hotbed for the growth and further perpetuation of conflict. Therefore, by understanding common conflicts that exist amongst preferences, we can perhaps mitigate the tension before it escalates. We can also use what we know about flexing outside our preferences to navigate our differences and accommodate the needs of others – often turning what would have been an argument or dismissal into something much more fruitful, productive and collaborative.

Let’s look at common preference-related sources of conflict.

Conflicts between these preferences often fall into two areas. Quick versus slower pacing, and changeability of topics versus focus.People who prefer Extraversion tend to work at a rapid pace. They develop their ideas by talking. As they talk their thoughts become clearer, resulting in frequent changes of direction during the course of a discussion. People who prefer Introversion want to process internally and need time (without talking) to do so. The thinking out- loud of Extraverts gets in the way of their thinking inside process. As well, when people preferring Introversion tune back into conversations they often find the topic has shifted. This results in Extraverts seeing Introverts as withholding or not interested, while Introverts see Extraverts as invasive. To top it off, they both may think the other is avoiding the topic.

E’s: Decide on a focus prior to engaging, and stay on track. Furthermore, resist the temptation to interrupt – you are robbing your counterparts of their thought process!
I’s: Try to give some cue that you are engaged in the discussion – summarizing what has been said, or providing non-verbal affirmation can go a long way. When needed, voice your need for time to think.


The two conflicts that frequently relate to differences in this area are agreeing on what the problem is, and a focus on experience versus a focus on theories. Sensing types define problems by what actually happened, usually concrete events. Intuitive types are more likely to see the concrete event as part of a pattern that they think is the real problem. So while Sensing types are trying to get someone to attend meetings on time, Intuitive types look at what is behind the individual coming late to meetings, such as a difficulty with authority figures. For Intuitive types, taking action to get the person to meetings on time does not deal with the real problem. For Sensing types, “difficulty with authority figures” has little meaning and no solution. When conflicts or problems arise, Sensing types trust what they know has worked before in similar situations. Intuitive types are more likely to find theoretical explanations and solutions from sources such as books. Sensing types and Intuitive types sometimes end up in a conflict where each thinks the other “just doesn’t get it.”

S’s: Ask yourself if the behaviours or problems at hand have been established as a pattern, then explore possible connections or reasons for these non-isolated events.
N’s: Try not to assume too much without establishing repetition or acknowledging what is concrete. Your ‘insights’ may lead you to make erroneous conclusions before they are warranted.


The two conflicts related to this dichotomy are (1) searching for the “right” answer versus exploration of people’s ideas and (2) choosing the logical alternative and applying it to everyone versus finding individual solutions that work for people. Thinking types tend to believe that if a problem is accurately defined, there will be a correct solution, and that’s what people should do. Feeling types are more likely to think that “truth” is not cut and dried: What’s right for one may be wrong for another. As a result, Thinking types may experience the decision making process of Feeling types as irrational, inconsistent, and illogical. Feeling types may experience the decision making of Thinking types as cold and uncaring.

T’s: Based on the situation and how it impacts those involved, recognize the need to consider the needs and opinions of others. Remember to remain diplomatic when delivering the ‘harsh truths’.
F’s: Do not let your consideration of people cloud logic and facts – consider them and communicate them together to arrive at optimally effective outcomes. This will also help avoid the perception of indecision and a ‘wish washy’ approach.


Two of the common conflicts related to this dichotomy are (1) the need for structure versus the need for flexibility and (2) the desire for closure versus the desire for openness. Judging types want clear goals. confused pandaThis allows them to create plans, structures and time frames to achieve them. They want decisions and closure. Ambiguity, delayed decisions, reopening decisions, and changing goals are extremely uncomfortable to them. Perceiving types also want clear goals and a deadline, but they want to be trusted to meet them in their own ways. They want decisions to grow out of the process, and they have faith in their internal sense of timing and trust that when the right time comes, they will know. Judging types often have trouble trusting that Perceiving types will come through in a timely way, that decisions will be made and action will be taken. Perceiving types often feel hemmed in, limited, and restricted by Judging types.

J’s: Evaluate in-the-moment whether decisions and projects warrant immediate action or whether some time can be taken to explore alternatives; this often depends on the severity and urgency of the decision. Also resist the temptation to “check in” on others once you have established an action plan with those involved.
P’s: Respect that your process can be anxiety-inducing for J’s who are not aware of why you do what you do. Re-iterate your commitment to the goal at hand and as you gather information and explore alternatives, informal “status updates” can go a long way in fostering comfort and productivity with your counterparts.


Want more? Check out our MBTI® Master Class “Using Type to Navigate Conflict” in a city near you!