Why PEAs cause workplace conflict, and what you can do about them


Cute peas isolated on whiteDo you ever stop to wonder why it is that you just don’t ever seem to see eye to eye with a particular colleague or one of your staff.  Or you have found yourself trying to make up ground with a client who you somehow managed to upset, but you don’t know why.   You find yourself saying things like “they just don’t get it” or “why didn’t they tell me that before!”

Chances are you aren’t managing your PEAs and Qs!  No, these aren’t the little green vegetables that we chase around the dinner plate, or minding our manners, but judgements that shape how we see things, respond to them and inform how we engage others – perhaps unwittingly to our detriment.  Worse, we aren’t alone.  EVERYONE else has them too, and if they don’t manage them properly either, then boom!  A recipe for disaster.

So what are they?


Have you ever looked at a cloud in the sky and thought “that looks like a rabbit” pointed it out to the person next to you for them only to look at you like you are bonkers? Well, how we see things, how we perceive them is not always the same as seen by the next person.

At work, you might believe that turning up on time, completing a task when asked or reading a project brief properly is important and essential to do, but how do you know that other people see it the same way and share the same viewpoint?

If that’s important to you, how do you feel if others don’t see things the way you do? Frustrated? Angry?  Disappointed?  All negative feelings.  Do you stop to even consider whether the other person’s viewpoint is valid before acting on your own?  You have a viewpoint that you see as right, but it may not be right.  Indeed there may not even be a right viewpoint!  It’s just different.

Experiences and Expectations

How we perceive things are often influenced by long held judgements, perhaps instilled in us from childhood.  For instance how often is our political affiliation first led by the views of our parents? We may never change this allegiance.  Even straightforward things like opening a bank account for the first time.  I opened my first bank account at age 16 with the bank my parents used.  I still use them.

Experiences that influence our thinking can also be about monumental events.  Delivering a presentation to an audience can put us off for life if our first experience didn’t go well.  What emotions and behaviours does that elicit if we are then told we HAVE to deliver an important pitch to a client? Fear?  Petulance?  Avoidance?  Equally what if we love giving presentations but our colleague doesn’t?  Do we stop to understand why, or roll our eyes and immediately label them as incompetent or flaky?

We can see then that our experiences can influences our expectations.  If we’ve come across a similar scenario before, how likely might we assume the answer is going to be the same again?  For instance if one of our staff turns up late for the third time in a row, how likely is it that we will conclude that it’s for the same reason as before, and risk acting on that?  One of the negative consequences of this kind of expectation I have regularly seen over the years is for organisations to introduce rules based on limited past experiences leading to often irrational or distrustful expectations.  For example, introducing ‘clocking in’ practices because one person abused the trust for timekeeping; or attempting to regulate personal relationships because one such relationship went wrong.  We risk alienating all, for the one instance that doesn’t go our way.

But expectations can be perfectly reasonable too.  I have the expectation that if a client asks me to complete a piece of work, they will have the courteousy to pay me on time.  I have learned though that whilst my expectation is quite reasonable it rarely happens.  Though what I then choose to do can affect the potential for future working relationships.


Many of the assumptions we make every day of the week, multiple times a day are essential to getting things done, are reasonable to make, and shouldn’t need to be checked by us.  For instance we assume that if we ask one of our staff to complete a routine task that they will either do it, or tell us if they can’t.  Or that when our staff go home at night that they will be back in the next morning unless we hear otherwise.   We only need to act differently when such assumptions don’t bear out.

But we also tend to assume things when we maybe shouldn’t, and we aren’t always aware that we are doing it.  For instance a client of mine recently phoned and said they wanted to hire someone overseas.  I immediately launched into a discussion about immigration status and ability to work in the UK, but I had made the wrong assumption.  They meant they wanted to hire overseas to work overseas.  This was an easy error for me to make.  I knew the client’s current staff were UK based and past queries had been about non UK nationals working at their UK site, but still I made that assumption in error.  There was no negative consequence to this but sometimes there can be.  For instance if I were to assume that all clients were untrustworthy over payment and so initiated court proceedings every time payment was a day or two late, I’d soon have no clients!

So how do we manage our PEAs to avoid the potential for conflict?


We ask questions – of ourselves and each other.  We sense check ours and others understanding.

If we find ourselves vociferously holding a different view point from someone we’re talking to we can stop and ask “are we both talking about the same thing?”  If that appears to be the case we can look to ourselves to see whether we are making judgements based on past experiences and determine whether that is rational to apply and can be evidenced.  Stopping to explore someone else’s viewpoint can be liberating, we might learn something, and of course it’s respectful of the other person too.

We can also check whether our expectations are the same as the other person’s.  If we are setting the expectation we can ask the other person if they understand it, or do they need greater clarity.  If the other party might be setting the expectation we can seek to clarify what they want, when, how etc.  Whatever might be needed.

And we need to be mindful of and check our assumptions – but only when it’s right to.  Ringing up your employees every morning at 7.00am to check they are up and on their way into work will be the quickest route to a bullying claim, but asking them if they have all the information they feel they need to complete a task you have asked them to do is helpful and supportive, and will likely be welcomed.

We can do little to manage other people’s PEAs for them, but if we manage our own PEAs and Qs we can go a long way to avoiding conflict.