In almost any industry, there are tensions between groups of people. Creative people often call financial people “bean counters,” and they aren’t being complimentary. Ask nurses what they think about doctors, and you’ll hear stories of arrogance and self-importance. Go to any technology company, and you’ll hear about the sales force — people who will promise anything to get their commission without any idea about how the work will actually get done. Ask an NCO in the military, and you’ll hear about officers fresh out of school who don’t have a clue. People who work in the pharmaceutical industry talk about the conflicts between the marketing people and the people who work in compliance. Sales and marketing folks clash because the sales people are trying to sell through a process of dialogue while the marketing people are focused on the marketing message. Almost every industry has these conflicts.

Universities are no different. Go to any university, and the faculty will complain about the staff and the staff will complain about the faculty. You will hear that the faculty are arrogant and have a sense of entitlement, and that the staff are lazy, incompetent time-wasters.

The truth is that most people are diligent, hard working, conscientious, and honest. Finding fault with a whole group of people in your workplace is easy. It’s harder to figure out ways to work together, appreciate the skills and good will of one another, and complement one another rather than enter into unproductive combat.

Tensions can be healthy if approached the right way. Perhaps the best advice on how to turn unproductive bickering and name calling into productivity is to follow the fifth habit described by Steven Covey in The 7 Habit of Highly Effective People: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

It all boils down to approaching conflict with curiosity and developing seriously good listening skills.


Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. New York, NY: Free Press.