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Differences between competition, non-cooperation, conflict, and sabotage

Those who manage people in law departments have to learn to recognize the differences between these interactions and deal with them appropriately.

Competition between two or more lawyers can appear everywhere in a law department. How often the general counsel commends you in staff meetings, who gets chosen to speak at retreats, where offices end up regarding size and location, when plum assignments are doled out, how quickly someone is promoted, and many other forms of recognition are worth competing for. Everywhere there are positional attributes (See my post of Dec. 10, 2005 on positional goods.). Indeed, in-house attorneys plunge into rivalrous competition (See my post of Feb. 28, 2006: the value of an officer title; and Oct. 10, 2005: politics and succession planning.).

Non-cooperation casts a shadow over healthy competition. It means withholding information or resources that would help someone else do better (See my posts of Jan. 17, 2006: passive-aggressive behavior; Feb. 9, 2008: silos that keep fiefdoms to themselves.).

Conflict implies worse behavior than non-cooperation Chronic conflict deserves coaching, counseling, therapy or termination (See my posts of May 2, 2007: political fights as stress for the newly promoted; June 5, 2006: conflict as a cause of stress; and Jan. 20, 2007: task and relationship conflicts: June 5, 2007: virulent politics.).

Sabotage takes conflict to a destructive level (See posts of Oct. 24, 2006 on rumors; and April 13, 2007 #4 on gossip.). Beyond withholding information, this person tries to cause problems for someone else. A saboteur deserves to be fired.

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