Workplace Conflict Still The Result Of A Tribal Mentality


We have all heard the phrase, "if you aren't with me you are against me."

This way of thinking has, tragically, become a leading source of conflict as wars once fought over territory have become wars fought over philosophical ideologies.

Regrettably, this occurs at all levels of society, not just on the global stage. News of the violent protests and unrest in the United States and Canada where one large group of people who share a common set of ideologies, philosophies, outlooks, and social beliefs are in opposition to the another that holds a different set of beliefs.

The violence and incivility that erupts in otherwise peaceful situations ultimately comes back to the black and white position that "if you aren't with me, you are against me", which is very much tribal in nature. 

It is this tribal mentality that also leads to many incidents of workplace conflict as individual employees coalesce into "tribes" based on shared philosophies, perceptions, beliefs, and needs

To better understand the cause and effect link between workplace conflict and tribal mentality, it is important to first understand what exactly a tribe is. We define a tribe as a group of individuals that have organized on the basis of social, economic, philosophical, and/or political ideologies and beliefs. 

Under this definition, an individual may participate as a member of multiple tribes on different scales - even when these different tribes are in conflict at the same scale. For example, a worker may be a part of the union "tribe" which is in conflict with the employer or company "tribe" at the micro level. However, this same worker may associate himself or herself as a member of the company tribe and defend it fiercely against other company tribes (which is only one degree of difference in scale) if the worker perceives the other company tribe as a threat. 

For the remainder of this article, it is the tribes that exist WITHIN a company that we will focus on with respect to workplace conflict.


Why is it important to go through the exercise of identifying the tribes that exist within your company?

Have you ever observed instances where management or HR has created a new policy as a reaction to something involving one or two employees, only to face tremendous push back and opposition to the policy from large groups of workers when unveiled to employees? 

This opposition (and conflict) can occur because management does not sufficiently understand the "tribes" of its employee and therefore lacks adequate understanding of the wider scale needs and wants of those tribes.


  1. Tribes can be a lot like icebergs - most of a tribes identifying characteristics are under the surface and not easy to see without more careful examination. Managers who take the easy route and identify tribes at a superficial level (i.e. using only the portion of the iceberg above the water) will quickly find their policies and initiatives sinking like the Titanic. For example, while it is easy to identify a tribe as "union employee", this is far too simplistic to be of much value for management decision making. Instead, put the time and effort into searching for what it looks like beneath the surface.
  2. Look for trends in employee grievances and complaints and then look for common or shared characteristics among the workers making those complaints. Tribes represent employees who share beliefs and perspectives within the social framework of the company. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that individuals who are a part of the same tribe will have the same (or highly similar) grievances and points of dissatisfaction. Find the commonalities and connect the dots.
  3. Ask. You are a manager, not James drop all the cloak and daggers stuff and actually speak with employees. Rather than spending company resources unnecessarily on schemes to gather your intelligence covertly, speak with workers directly. In addition to being "free", speaking with employees and asking them what is important to them; finding out what their opinions and perspectives about the company and its directions are; learning what they believe the greatest sources of worker cohesiveness and division are; and, in general, learning about them will give any manager a good idea of what tribes exist in their workplace.


We are all 100% accountable for our behaviour and actions.

The value of identifying your company's various tribal mentalities lies in being able to use this information to make better individual decisions and become a more effective leader and/or worker. 

Reducing or eliminating workplace conflict between employee tribes, between worker and management tribes, and even between worker and customer tribes falls under this umbrella purpose. 

One of the ways you can accomplish this reduction, that is taught in the Law of Cooperative Action Professional Mastery Program, is by using your new-found knowledge of tribal needs, perspectives, and beliefs to significantly improve workplace relationships. 

This can be effectively accomplished through the creation of a balance and equilibrium when accommodating tribal needs in a way that prevents any tribe (including management) from losing their sense of self (i.e. from acting in a way that is contrary to their tribal beliefs and traits).

Interpersonal conflict can also be dramatically reduced as management and workers alike have a much better understanding of their colleagues' needs, values, and beliefs. 

While gaining such an understanding at the level of the individual can be a massive undertaking (not to mention require a fantastic memory), being able to categorize others based on their "tribe" allows for an improved degree of understanding without being so detailed as to become overwhelming.

This allows all tribes of employees to make decisions and behave in ways that are less likely to cause (or be perceived as causing) harm to the physical, emotional, or psychological well-being of other tribes that exist in the workplace. 

We all want to believe we are unique individuals with unique goals, values, and beliefs. While this may be true to an extent in some areas, we all, never-the-less, congregate with others similar to ourselves on a social level, even at work. 

By undertaking the task of learning what characteristics, beliefs, philosophies, and perspectives define each social grouping or tribe in a company, managers and employees can use this knowledge to create a more favourable, mutually beneficial workplace experience that benefits employee and company alike. 

For hundreds of more ideas on how to dramatically improve workplace relationships, purchase our book, "Workplace Wisdom: An Uncommon Common Sense Approach To Creating Amazing Workplace Relationships" . Click the big button below.