Conflict in the workplace is a widespread occurrence that, if not handled appropriately, may harm individual employees and the organization. There are many forms of workplace conflict stemming from various factors, including poor communication, cultural differences, and dissimilarities in leadership style.
In order to achieve a productive work environment, every employee must feel heard and considered, and any workplace conflict that may arise must be resolved in the most fitting way according to the situation.
Below are some realistic and common workplace conflict examples, along with valuable guidelines for resolving them appropriately.
Conflict in the workplace reaches far beyond disputes over resources. Workplace conflict often involves complex psychological motivations among employees. Therefore, every case of workplace conflict is unique, and conflict resolution must be based on individual circumstances.
The only way to resolve conflicts is to first understand why a team member feels and reacts the way they do. Every person in a conflict situation feels like their argument is justified and there is no right or wrong side. The key is getting employees on the same page where both parties feel heard and understood.
Although conflict in the workplace comes in many shapes and sizes, five primary categories cover the fundamental types of workplace conflicts.
These cases of workplace conflict happen when one team member disagrees with another person, which may lead to hostility, aggression, and resentment. As this type of workplace conflict is individual-based, it is usually motivated by personal factors, such as individual work styles, emotions, and different points of interest between two employees.
This type of workplace conflict happens when employees struggle to align with the way operations are executed in the workplace. While some people may be comfortable with how things are done, other employees might feel like their suggestions aren’t considered, and their productivity suffers as a result.
This type of workplace conflict is particularly complicated, as it involves a person experiencing conflict with themself due to conflicting values or goals. Conflict resolution is difficult to achieve in such situations because the employee will find it challenging to view matters objectively.
Such workplace conflicts occur when the policies or procedures in an organization do not align with one another. Employee confusion and lack of direction are inevitable when organizational systems and processes don’t support each other.
This type of workplace conflict occurs when the procedures and policies of an organization don’t seem intended to meet the requirements of employees, which may lead employees to respond negatively to their assignments because they feel company systems don’t support their efforts.
Conflict management refers to the process of approaching any disagreements or clashes on a step-by-step basis to prevent them from escalating. Instead, conflict management focuses on finding common ground among the parties involved in the row.
Management of workplace conflict involves mediation, negotiation, calm intervention, arbitration, and other practices designed to resolve disagreements in a mutually beneficial manner.
Organizations have the right to their own policies and opinions within reason. However, all employees won’t always agree with the decisions of the company and the leadership styles demanded at every level.
Whether employees disagree with more significant issues or those that have a direct impact on the organization, there is nothing wrong with healthy disagreements regarding certain matters. Employees may not always be on the same page with management, and therefore they won’t always support the activities of the company.
Try to avoid raising topics like ethnicity, politics, religion, and other controversial matters, especially if it doesn’t concern the organization directly. One employee may have a strong yet controversial opinion on a particular matter, which could lead to potential conflicts if too much emphasis is placed on the topic.
If something doesn’t affect or change the daily operations of an organization, it is best to steer clear of discussing it.
Some employees will be more compatible than other employees, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, if two employees differ widely in personalities and have to work together on a project, conflict is likely to arise at some point.
For example, more reserved employees tend to respond to discussions with concise answers, which extroverted employees might view as rude. Similarly, extroverted employees may find it challenging to recognize when they should stop talking and practice active listening.
Neither party is at fault, but tension may arise, and the team leader will need to mediate the situation to avoid explicit conflict.
The primary goal is to resolve conflict between employees entirely, and that is generally a responsibility allocated to the human resources department of an organization. The human resources team must mediate workplace conflicts, but employees often approach management with conflicts before considering other mediating entities.
If the conflict isn’t of a significant nature, a manager can easily present employees with easy solutions and tips on handling the situation before taking the matter a step further by filing a complaint.
Although most minor conflicts are simple to resolve in a calm manner, it would be a different scenario if one employee feels targeted by another or a recurring issue is hindering employees’ productivity. In such situations, it is best to get the HR team involved to ensure the situation is handled with due seriousness.
If it is evident that two employees will never get along and be able to collaborate on projects due to personality clashes, it may be best to separate them.
However, don’t assume that separation is a sure solution, as some personalities tend to have issues with many people. So if an employee finds it hard working with another employee, they may have the same issues with all other employees.
Therefore, it’s best to observe both employees involved in a conflict situation to better distinguish the source of the problem before separating the individuals.
Cultural differences arise when an employee’s culture opposes a custom or practice of a second employee significantly. A cultural difference may involve something like religious differences.
Although there are too many real-life examples of cultural conflicts to name, you will certainly know them when you see them. An employee may, for example, be a vegetarian or a vegan and take offense when another employee indulges in animal products at work.
Another example involves the general ways of speaking in different parts of the world. Employees who originate from the East tend to talk slower, leaving more room for thought between sentences. In contrast, those from Western cultures tend to be more direct. This may not be a big issue, but these cultural differences may lead to awkward meetings in a diversity-rich work environment.
A sure way to bring a team closer together despite their cultural differences is by implementing team-building exercises. After all, everyone understands fun regardless of their cultural background. Team-building activities will help employees understand each other better and gain deeper insight into their perspectives.
It comes as no surprise that some employees simply don’t like their managers or employers much. Likewise, many employers and managers don’t enjoy being around some employees. Although this is normal, unreasonable leadership styles are a more serious matter and can lead to resentment and workplace conflict.
Some people prefer being recognized for their efforts in public, while others appreciate discretion. Managers must find the best ways of dealing with individual employees according to the leadership style that will help them perform optimally.
Management is held responsible for all the achievements and failures of a team, and they need to ensure top productivity among employees, which is no easy feat.
For a workplace to function in the absence of interfering workplace conflicts, appropriate management training must be implemented. Managers must have extensive experience in their field and understand the different dynamics they can expect to encounter in a workplace. Every employee likes to be managed differently, so the management and leadership style should reflect what the employee needs to succeed.
All leaders encounter some extent of conflict in the workplace as a result of their leadership style, but the key is to manage such conflicts in a way that prevents the occurrence of difficult conflict situations.
By staying engaged in employees’ daily operations, leaders and managers are more likely to relate to their teams and practice active listening, which improves employee morale significantly.
Miscommunication is arguably the most common cause of workplace conflicts. It’s easy for one employee to misunderstand the words of another, leading to unnecessary disputes. Therefore, training employees adequately is essential to ensure they have the tools to communicate clearly and effectively.
Poor communication is a major occurrence in most workplace environments, but the solution is simple: teach your employees to communicate better. Modern technology has introduced unique challenges to the concept of communication, as people tend to be more absent in their physical location.
Poor communication can only be combated if employees “practice” communication frequently. Therefore, it may be a good idea to ask employees not to put on headphones the moment they start work or to call daily meetings to allow employees to talk about their daily tasks and concerns.
If employees don’t clearly understand their role in a project and also don’t feel inclined to voice their concerns, it may be a good idea to host a project brief and encourage employees to participate in the planning process.
If managers and leaders don’t effectively communicate their expectations of employees, conflict in the workplace will likely arise at some point. Therefore good communication is essential at any level of the company.
Disputes over different points of view are common workplace conflicts. Although some disagreements may be minor, others might involve more controversial topics, which can escalate and result in serious conflicts.
If different points of view don’t affect workplace operations to a large extent, there is no need to make a big deal about it. Employees will likely come to some form of conflict resolution on their own. A few examples of conflict topics that don’t need too much attention include the dynamics of the breakroom, the layout of desks in the office, and the type of coffee available.
However, conflicts involving the operations in the workplace, like an approach to a project, need to be handled appropriately. The first step is to identify and weigh up the suggested approach of both employees and give everyone a chance to raise their opinions so employees feel heard and valued in the decision-making process.
Minor disagreements are relatively easy to resolve, but more complex disagreements deserve ample attention. When employees have different points of view that will ultimately impact the ways things are done at work, leaders or managers must listen to both parties and weigh up each viewpoint’s merits.
Different perspectives are valuable in an organization, so it is essential to encourage productive sharing to yield an overall better approach. The important thing to remember is that such interactions must be mediated, so the conflict doesn’t escalate to the point of no return.
It is common for employees to disagree about many matters, but a democratic approach must be taken to ensure a fair and reasonable decision-making process.
Violence is never an acceptable occurrence in any workplace environment. Although relatively rare, workplace conflicts may escalate to the point of violence, which must be considered with dire seriousness. Any occurrence of violence in the workplace must be reported and recorded accurately in case lawsuits become involved.
Strict disciplinary action must be taken when any accounts of physical violence arise.
If employees assault other employees, they must be terminated with immediate effect. A threat of violence is also a cause for termination.
It is always a good idea to get the police involved if violence has occurred in the workplace. A police report will most likely need to be filed, and if an employee is suspected of becoming violent, the police must also be notified so the situation can be investigated.
Promoting particular traits in the workplace can go a long way in preventing workplace conflicts. Employers, leaders, and managers all have an immense influence on their employees, so it is wise to use that influence positively.
One sure way to encourage productivity in the workplace is by offering employees incentives for their efforts and implementing performance reviews.
More importantly, it is crucial to ensure that the work environment supports productivity and teamwork by minimizing workplace conflicts as much as possible. Building good relationships with and between employees is essential to creating a positive environment where everyone gets along.
Therefore, you must foster an interactive and inclusive company culture, so tension is less likely to arise.
Here are some valuable traits to promote among employees to cultivate a positive work environment.
An organization is more likely to succeed if teams and employees have well-developed problem-solving skills. This means there will be fewer obstacles in the workplace, and operations can flow seamlessly.
Promote active listening among employees, managers, and leaders so everyone can communicate more constructively with each other and come to an agreement faster.
Teams are much stronger when they unite in their goals. There are innumerable team-building exercises available to strengthen team dynamics and promote engagement.
If employees can identify common issues that arise in the workplace better, they will be able to anticipate problems before they arise and implement practical strategies to avoid workplace conflict. An employee who has the ability to identify a potentially severe problem can effectively save the organization from disaster.
Encourage constructive criticism among employees so they can better collaborate with different work styles without the threat of work style conflicts becoming relevant.
Self-awareness is an important attribute in any organization, as it allows for personal and professional development. Employees need to become aware of the areas within themselves that need improvement in order to start growing as individuals.
It is vital that every employee has some form of long-term goal to focus on. Employees are more likely to go to great lengths to ensure healthy professional relationships when they have a purpose and a strategy for growing professionally.
Encouraging friendliness and kindness in the workplace is the best way to prevent conflict from arising. Kind individuals are generally the ones to focus on maintaining peace, so promoting kindness among co-workers will greatly advance seamless operations.
It is also essential to demonstrate kindness as a manager, employer, or leader. That way, team members feel appreciated and valued in the organization.