Conflict is a persistent feature of organisational life, as was pointed out in Chapter 7. When people share a workplace, such that their efforts are in some measure interdependent, differences in values, goals, strategies and priorities easily lead to tension, create unease and put individuals on their guard.1 We tend to react in predictable ways when confronted by threatening situations. Put simply, we are inclined to either go on the offensive with all guns blazing or, alternatively, flee from the battlefield in disarray without firing a shot. We exhibit what is called the ‘fight/flight response’. This is a well-established reaction to danger. Down through the ages, this predisposition has been passed from generation to generation. When confronted with a woolly mammoth or sabre-toothed tiger, there was obvious survival value for our ancestors in being well prepared for intense physical activity. This is just what the ‘fight/flight response’ does, it prepares us physiologically, psychologically and behaviourally to deal with potentially life-threatening challenges. Changes described by Paterson,2 at the physiological level, include increases in heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, blood supply to large muscle groups, the release of endorphins and respiration. Psychologically, we become very focused on specific, unitary tasks, and may experience heightened emotional states of fear or anger.
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