Conflict in the workplace is a typical occurrence that may be harmful to both the company and individual employees. There are many types of conflicts, and if left unchecked, they can lead to problems such as low productivity or employee turnover.
According to experts, the following are some examples of common workplace conflicts, along with tips on how to resolve them:
Dr. Ralph H. Kilmann, Ph.D
CEO and Senior Consultant, Kilmann Diagnostics | Author, “Creating a Quantum Organization“
Addressing Workplace Conflicts with the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Model
Let it be known: The TKI Conflict Model is deceptively simple since it reveals so much about your five behavioral choices in any conflict situation.
Figure 1 shows the basic TKI Conflict Model, where each of the five conflict modes is defined by a different combination of high and low assertiveness (trying to get your needs met) and high and low cooperativeness (trying to get the other person’s needs met).
The TKI Conflict Model — Five Conflict Modes
But besides the two underlying dimensions of assertiveness and cooperativeness that define the five conflict modes, it’s also worthwhile to display three additional — diagonal — dimensions that can be placed on the same TKI Conflict Model, as illustrated in Figure 2 below.
These three diagonal dimensions provide even more insight into the deeper meaning of the five conflict modes and conflict management.
The TKI Conflict Model — Three Diagonal Dimensions
The Distributive Dimension for Resolving Workplace Conflicts
Let’s proceed by first exploring the distributive dimension, which moves back and forth from competing through compromising to accommodating.
In fact, as we move along this diagonal, we vary the relative percentage of what you get versus what I get in the final resolution of our conflict. For example, if we focus only on my needs, I’m 100% satisfied by the outcome, while you’re 0% satisfied since none of your needs or concerns has been addressed by our final resolution.
In essence, I used the competing mode to get my needs met and you used the accommodating mode to concede to my preferences, which is represented by the upper-left circle on the distributive dimension.
At the other extreme, if I focus exclusively on satisfying your needs, then, in the end, I accommodate your preferences, while I get none of my own needs and concerns addressed in the resolution, which is represented by the lower-right circle on the distributive dimension.
Naturally, if we split the differences between us, we wind up with a compromise, whereby each of us gets our needs partially satisfied… say 50/50, which is represented by the mid-point on the distributive dimension.
Basically, when we stick to the three conflict modes on the distributive dimension, the more I get, the less you get, and the more you get, the less I get.
In a sense, the size of the pie (all that is available to us to distribute between us) remains fixed; we are only negotiating over the size of the piece of the pie that I get versus the size of the piece of the pie that you get. Our two pieces always combine to make up the whole pie.
Sometimes, the distributive dimension is referred to as a zero-sum game, or as the give-and-take dimension, or the win/lose dimension: The more you win, the more I lose, since the size of the pie remains fixed.
Many conflicts in life are approached and resolved on this diagonal dimension. In fact, when the conflict is regarded as simple, meaning that the issue concerns only one dimension of disagreement, the discussion usually moves along this diagonal.
But at other times, people initially assume that they only have two stark choices:
- We do it my way.
- We do it your way.
But there is much more to conflict management than only dealing with the either/or choices that are initially situated on the distributive dimension.
The Integrative Dimension for Resolving Workplace Conflicts
In particular, let’s now consider the diagonal dimension that runs from compromising to collaborating, what I call the integrative dimension.
By moving up the integrative diagonal, we can expand the size of the pie by adding more aspects and issues to the original conflict.
By having several items to consider, we can develop — and then agree upon — a multifaceted resolution that satisfies the most important needs of all the people in the situation.
Perhaps it’d be worthwhile to give an example that distinguishes the distributive from the integrative dimension. Take the case of a union-management dispute. Let’s say the conflict begins on the subject of wages for the union employees.
The union wants its members to receive $25 per hour for the next two years, while management wants its employees to continue receiving the current $20 per hour. On the distributive diagonal, it’s easy to go back and forth on the seesaw between $25 and $20 an hour for union wages.
That’s an example of give-and-take or win/lose discussion on a unidimensional topic, which defines a rather simple conflict about the hourly pay for union members over the next two years.
But let’s suppose we are able to expand the size of the pie, so we can move up the integrative dimension.
Let’s add on a few more issues to the conflict, such as working conditions, flextime, greater union involvement in decisions that are important to its members, and so forth.
Let’s say we also include fringe benefits, or perhaps tuition benefits. As we include more aspects and issues into the original conflict, we expand the size of the pie to include not just wages, but also working conditions and the quality of work life.
If the eight key attributes in the conflict situation also support the use of the collaborating mode, it now becomes possible to create a multifaceted, multidimensional resolution, whereby both union members and senior management get their most important needs met.
It’s good to re-emphasize this key point:
To move up the integrative dimension,
- There must be considerable trust between union and management.
- There must be effective listening and communication skills.
- The culture must support candor, openness, and respect.
- The union and management representatives must be willing to take the time to have more probing discussions on all those relevant topics that make up the expanded pie.
- Both parties must realize that it’s very important to satisfy everyone’s needs as best as possible.
So a healthy working relationship between union and management continues well into the future.
Related: Building Strong Work Relationships
Clearly, a satisfied workforce that trusts senior management is more likely to be engaged, empowered, and enthusiastic about their job and about their role in the organization, short term, and long term.
The Protective Dimension for Resolving Workplace Conflicts
Let’s now examine the protective dimension, which is the diagonal that moves between avoiding and compromising. I purposely use the word “protective” to represent when people tend to avoid conflicts, even though not resolving those issues will negatively affect their personal satisfaction and organizational success.
Usually, there are several good reasons to avoid conflicts, such as when you need more time to make a far-reaching decision since you first have to learn more about the subject matter, speak to a few more people, and so forth.
But if the topic is very important to both people in the conflict, then we have to find ways to create the conditions, the key attributes of the situation, so that people can satisfy their most important needs.
But when you find yourself in a protective mode with respect to some conflict, one or both persons are usually experiencing fear or spite.
In the case of fear, people say: “I’m not going to share with others what I really need or want, since, at some later time, they’ll use what I say against me. I’ve been hurt in the past from sharing my true feelings, and I don’t intend to set myself up for more hurt in the future.“
By definition, if people are holding back from sharing what they truly need and want, they’re protecting themselves, which puts the conflict somewhere on the protective dimension.
If one or both parties don’t talk about the topic or only do so in superficial ways, nobody is getting their needs met.
No satisfactory resolution can possibly occur when people feel compelled to protect themselves from either real or imagined harm.
In the case of spite, the person is saying something like this: “To make sure that you’ll get less than what you want, I’m going to take less myself.” Spite is evident when one person purposely withholds their own need satisfaction, just so the other persons won’t get their needs met.
Let’s be clear, whenever people act out fear or spite during any conflict situation, the size of the pie shrinks.
As fewer issues or topics are discussed and considered, any resolution on the protective dimension will provide the two parties with significantly less than if they had been able to arrive at a resolution that falls on any point along the distributive dimension.
For example, on the distributive dimension, if one person gets 100% of their needs met, while the other gets 0%, at least one person is totally satisfied.
But when both persons avoid the topic, they both get 0% of their needs met. If there is a superficial resolution on the protective dimension, maybe one person gets 25% of his needs met, while the other person gets 15%.
That 25% and 15% on the protective dimension adds to 40% in total, while even a one-sided resolution on the distributive dimension still adds to 100%… the total size of the distributive pie.
In sharp contrast, a resolution that moves up the integrative dimension can satisfy 90% of one’s person’s needs and 90% of the other person’s needs, which creates a much larger pie that now totals 180% in combined need satisfaction.
This result is a perfect example of a win-win scenario, which is possible when the relevant members address their workplace conflicts with the collaboration mode.
CEO and Leadership and Business Expert, Kim-Adele Leadership Expert
Conflict is a part of life, and without conflict resolution, we can’t be successful. It’s important for leaders to know how to manage conflict within their teams effectively.
To do this successfully, you need to understand the different types of conflict in a company and how each one can be resolved.
Five main categories of workplace conflict
There are many different forms of conflict, although five main categories cover most types. They are as follows:
- People vs. people: This occurs when one person is pitted against another person, and the result is a competition that can lead to aggression, hostility, or even violence.
- People vs. process: This type of conflict happens when people are fighting against the way something is done, often because they do not agree with the way it is being done or do not feel that their voices are being heard.
- People vs. self: This occurs when a person conflicts with themselves, often because they have conflicting goals or values. This can be very challenging to resolve, as the person can usually not see things objectively.
- Process vs. process: This type of conflict occurs when the procedures or policies of an organization are at odds with one another, resulting in confusion and lack of direction or goals for employees
- Process vs. people: This often arises when organizational policies or procedures do not meet the needs of the employees, causing them to become upset over their working conditions
Conflict management is a process for addressing conflicts by taking steps to stop the conflict from getting worse and refocusing on issues of common interest among those involved.
This may include negotiation, mediation, arbitration, non-violent intervention, or other processes that have been designed to resolve differences in a way that reduces escalation and creates a win-win solution to a problem.
Related: Negotiation Strategies and Conflict Resolution Skills
Managers play a crucial role in minimizing workplace conflicts
There are several things that managers can do to help create a more effective work environment to prevent conflict, including:
- Creating clear expectations/job descriptions: Ensure each person knows what you expect of them and what they are accountable for.
- Have a clear and transparent communication: Most conflict comes down to misunderstanding, miscommunication, or misinformation. Having an open and transparent communication helps you identify these root causes and eliminate them.
- Setting appropriate boundaries with each employee: Ensure you have been clear on. What is and isn’t acceptable behaviors and any consequences.
- Providing regular feedback (both positive and corrective): Creating an open culture where feedback is seen as an opportunity to become even better. Ensure you are telling people what they do well and the impact it has, as well as what could be going better.
- Developing solid relationships with each employee: Get to know your people, what is important to them, and how you can help them achieve their goals.
- Speak respectfully and diplomatically to all employees: At our base, as human beings, we want to be listened to, understood, and respected. It doesn’t mean we can’t disagree, but we never disrespect.
- Remaining impartial in conflicts: As a leader, you will often be asked to mediate in the conflict. It is important when doing so to remain calm and focus on the facts. There are some tips below that can help.
- Resolving conflicts promptly: Conflict is best dealt with head-on to ensure it doesn’t fester and escalate.
Workplace conflict can be highly destructive to an organization, costing time, money, and resources that could be better spent elsewhere.
Organizations can enjoy a more productive, harmonious work environment by understanding the causes of conflict and implementing strategies to minimize them.
If a conflict does occur, following a simple step-by-step approach is often the best way to understand what is going on, identify the root cause and find a solution.
Here is a simple 5 step process that is highly effective.
- Understand your conflict style.
- Do you like to talk things out?
- Are you more of a “doer”?
- Do you want to have lots of information before deciding?
- Or do you prefer to make decisions quickly?
- Knowing your tendencies will help you better understand how to deal with conflict when it arises.
- Try and understand the other person’s conflict style. This takes some effort, but it can be very helpful in getting to a resolution. For example, if you know that the other person likes to talk things out, you might be more likely to suggest sitting down and talking about the issue rather than trying to solve it yourself.
- Stay calm and stick with the facts. Too often, we aren’t dealing with what actually happened. We are dealing with what we made it mean. By remaining calm and looking at the facts rather than the emotions, you’re more likely to be able to think clearly and come up with a resolution.
- Try and find common ground. Even if you don’t agree on everything, there are likely to be some areas where you see eye-to-eye. Focusing on these areas can help build a foundation for resolving the conflict.
- Agree on your intention. Being clear on our intentions is an essential part of conflict management; once the other party understands we are looking to find a resolution that works for everybody, they become part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
- For example, I am 100% committed to finding a solution that works for both of us. The beauty of this is it gives you a common goal (a solution that works for both of us) and allows you to disregard suggestions that don’t work for both parties without undoing all the good work you have already done to resolve the conflict.
When it comes to dealing with conflict, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution
What works for one person may not work for another. But by using these tips as a starting point, you’ll be on your way to resolving conflicts effectively and maintaining positive relationships with those you lead.
Tips on how to handle conflict effectively:
- Find a win-win solution for both parties involved in the conflict. It isn’t always easy, but if both sides are willing, consider agreeing to disagree on certain matters that you won’t compromise on so both sides can be satisfied with their decisions.
- Be aware of your personal biases and assumptions. Don’t jump to conclusions or make assumptions about the other person’s motives.
- Stay calm and try not to react emotionally. If you can, take a step back and consider the situation from the other person’s perspective.
- Listen actively and don’t interrupt. Let the other person finish talking before responding.
- Be respectful and try to understand the other person’s point of view. Acknowledge their feelings and don’t dismiss them.
- Avoid using power tactics or threats. This will only aggravate the situation and make it harder to resolve.
- Try to find a mutually acceptable solution that meets the needs of all parties.
- Use power tactics or threats at your own risk! This will only aggravate the situation because no one likes to be threatened, especially during conflict management.
- Think about how to prevent conflict from arising again in the future. For example, you might want to adjust your style or approach so that conflict is less likely to arise in the future.
Workplace conflict is inevitable, and everyone deals with it at one time or another, no matter their skill or experience level. Organizations will always face complaints, disagreements, and problems that will require immediate attention.
There are some conflicts that:
- are on an interpersonal level
- arise due to bottlenecks and poor organization of the work process
- are due to management style
As a leader, it’s up to you to anticipate, address, and solve conflicts through emotional intelligence and self-awareness.
For a manager, it is important to tackle workplace conflicts appropriately so that one can embrace the opportunity to build a positive company culture that leads to increased productivity, which in the end benefits everyone.
Here are four sources of common workplace conflicts that are bound to happen as an organization grows, as well as tactics for managing these issues and preventing them from reoccurring.
Establish clear and structured guidelines
Managers and their employees’ clashes can be very common in an organization. For example, a manager with a type-A personality sets ambitious goals for an employee, unknowingly overwhelming them. Or a manager can have a hands-off management style, whereas the employee needs more guidance.
These types of conflicts usually happen when there is a communication gap between the manager and the employee.
To overcome conflicts like these, it is important to establish clear and structured guidelines to ensure everyone can see the big picture and the goals to be achieved and work together to get optimal solutions.
Measure your team’s velocity
Measuring team velocity is a good example. Some team members work faster, but the quality of work may not be satisfactory, some employees take more time to complete a task, but the quality is superb. In some cases, both the speed and quality are well below the average.
In each case, the performance can be impacted by the way the goals and KPIs have been communicated to the team.
If an employee is overwhelmed by their work. In that case, the manager can ask for a spreadsheet of tasks with estimated deadlines to understand the workload of the employee and understand their working style.
Further, it is good for managers to meet with their employees in weekly 1-on-1 meetings. That way, the manager can review the workload and work on ways of streamlining specific duties if required by distributing them to other teammates.
The important thing here is to keep discussions ongoing and open, so employees and managers know about each other’s working styles.
Be more self-aware and conscious
As a leader, you may often find yourself serving as a mediator between employees having different personalities, clashing preferences, or work style conflicts.
Most research papers suggest that having different types of personalities on your team is likely to lead to better results. But, at the same time, when having people with different points of view together, disagreements are bound to happen. However, that doesn’t mean they’re unresolvable.
One of the best ways to solve these types of conflicts in a workplace is to be more self-aware and conscious of the people you work with.
Is it important to notice different characteristics about each employee? Or notice the sources of tension/differences in their work style, and how can you effectively address those sources?
It can be a difficult task to understand different personality types and work styles, but once you master it, you will be able to adapt to your team dynamics and manage conflicts efficiently.
Workplace discrimination is a serious conflict
Workplace discrimination is among the most serious workplace conflict examples and the one you should be most careful about.
In almost all cases of workplace discrimination, the human resources department is expected to step in, investigate the respective case of supposed workplace discrimination, inform the senior management about it and work towards resolving it.
In 2020 alone, 67,448 workplace discrimination charges were filed in the United States alone.
Once there is a claim about workplace discrimination, as a manager, you should:
- explicitly emphasize the value of diversity and tolerance in the organization
- listen closely to the aggrieved employee/s and call for an open discussion about the issue
- set measurable goals to eradicate this type of behavior
Workplace discrimination conflicts are often hard to identify as both parties involved in each case tend to remain silent and not seek help or advice.
Still, there are some indicators that a senior manager needs to keep an eye on, including employees who never receive a bonus or promotion while other team members are always praised for their work, obvious tension or discomfort in the presence of the line manager, etc.
Communication conflicts should be addressed immediately
Poor communication or miscommunication is one of the most common and most widespread root causes of conflict faced by organizations.
Whether it’s a set of instructions that were miscommunicated or a comment that was understood in the wrong way, a communication conflict can quickly result in tension, poor productivity, and errors.
Related: Effective Communication: How to Improve Your Communication Skills
Poor communication is a timely issue to solve in the workplace, and with an increase in the remote workforce due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become even more prevalent in workplaces.
Thus, with people spread across various time zones and with less face-to-face communication in daily workplace activities, it’s important for managers to establish communication channels and guidelines.
Communication conflicts shall be addressed immediately to avoid the “snowball effect.“
Long email chains have to be replaced by face-to-face meetings or video calls inviting all participants in the conflict and a manager acting as a mediator. More often than not, miscommunication is due to ambiguous language unintentionally used in email correspondence, and a 5-minute video call is sufficient to resolve the issue.
It is best to avoid political, ethical, and other controversial topics in the workplace that do not directly concern daily operations.
Conflicts caused by miscommunication between departments involved in the same project are also common. To encourage cooperation and success between departments, managers could consider some of the following best practices:
- Regular meetings involving representatives of all departments
- Using document libraries that track the changes made to each document or memo. At Transformify, we use Confluence, that also integrates with Jira and allows us to cross-reference the tasks assigned to each department
- Encourage company networking
- Encourage meetings to identify potential bottlenecks and discuss the ways to address them so that all departments can deliver their tasks timely
If the conflict between departments is already a fact, managers shall foster a series of team meetings to clarify the problems and draft the action plan to resolve them.
In times of conflict, we deal with a mix of emotions like frustration, anger, fear, distrust. And the key to creating a high-performing team lies in understanding and addressing those feelings.
Best practices that work in any organization regardless of its size:
- Active listening
- Agile learning
- Respecting everyone’s individual
Jennifer Edwards and Katie McCleary
Leadership Coaches | Authors, “Bridge the Gap: Breakthrough Communication Tools to Transform Work Relationships From Challenging to Collaborative“
When workplace conflicts become messy, that’s bad for business. The longer and more tumultuous the conflict, the greater the cost to the individual, team, and bottom line.
To resolve the conflict, someone in the relationship needs to step up as the leader to bridge the growing divide.
Destructive behavior in an organization
You’ve got 15 minutes before the training begins, and you’re catching up on email, feeling like you finally have some semblance of control over your inbox! Pat enters, a member of the admin team.
You’re focused and jamming when their voice grows louder and louder. They’re talking fast and furious with expletives and hyperbole. Words that have no place being voiced in this setting, nor in any that you can really think of. You look around like WTH? And shoot, Pat, your best glare.
You probably have been—or will be—in an interaction where outrageous, extreme thoughts are shared. Perhaps it is a conversation where racist, sexist, or other discriminatory language was spewed.
Maybe the beliefs they shared were so outrageous and one-sided that you must stand up and say something.
Resolution ideas: Ways to stand firmly against such behavior
It is handy to have practiced a few sentence starters to help you articulate a response and avoid an explosive reaction.
Here are a few ways to stand firmly against such behavior:
- “I hear your words and the feeling inside of them. I don’t see it that way. I don’t share your perspective. My values say xxx, and that’s why I operate with xxx.”
- “I disagree with you. However, I appreciate the tension that it brings to our relationship, so I ask that we continue asking questions that hopefully will land us in a better place.”
- “This is very awkward and hard because I care about you. When your language and perspective are rooted in false information, I cannot participate. If you want to explore a different story with me sometime, where we choose to be curious rather than certain, then I am all in.”
Andre appreciates his newfound work-from-home lifestyle, even though he finds himself slipping professionally.
Last Friday, right after the morning team huddle, he decided to get in a run even though it was time for a client call that his boss wanted him to hear.
He thought, “I don’t even need to mention it to anyone—how would they know?” He grabbed his earphones, connected to the call, muted himself and turned off his video, and began his run.
Somewhere along the way, his pocket unmuted him, and his boss heard his heavy breathing… and then his bathroom break along the trail.
His boss texted him, “Do you want to mute next time you flush the toilet? I can hear your breathing, and it’s distracting and inappropriate.” Paul thinks, “Oh crap.” Time to apologize for his personal irresponsibility.
- You blew it.
- You were selfish.
- You fibbed.
- You stretched the truth.
- You threw them under the bus.
- You said something hurtful.
- You didn’t listen.
- You made assumptions.
- You judged unfairly.
- You thrashed their values.
- You manipulated.
- You fell short.
- You overpromised.
- You gossiped.
- You ignored.
- You snubbed.
- You turned someone’s words into weapons.
- You were wrong.
Resolution ideas: Take ownership over your actions and shortcomings
Everyone has fallen short when it comes to integrity, causing people to harm one another. An apology is about taking ownership over your actions and shortcomings. An apology is about clearing up a wrong and coming to terms with changing your behavior to not make the same mistake in the future.
Own your mistake with hearty depth. Do not give a pithy, little “I am sorry.” Say it with bold honesty: “I own what I did, and I’m sorry.“
Here are some ways:
- “I’m sorry that I xxx. I take full responsibility for xxx.”
- “I’m sorry that I xxx. I know how I can avoid this in the future. I care about our relationship. Is there more you want to share about how it impacted you?”
- “I’m sorry for xxx. I truly hope you can hear me. I am learning. I am open to your help and wisdom on how I can show up and interact with you with better.”
After giving the apology, try to be silent for eight seconds after you receive back their response or reaction. Allow the power of silence to convey that you heard, saw, and respected what they said.
Don’t over apologize. Don’t replay or rehash it out incessantly. Forgive yourself and move on. Release negative feelings and don’t become trapped by it—learn and grow.
Debra Roberts, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker | Conversation Expert and Creator, The Relationship Protocol
If you find yourself in a conflict with a co-worker, regardless of the situation, there are a few things you can do to resolve it quickly.
Three steps to resolving conflict in the workplace:
- Practice self-awareness
- The more you are present and paying attention when communicating with your colleague, the faster you can resolve the conflict. Because the best defense against escalating conflicts is to have a quick response.
- The quicker you can defuse a conflict, the better, as long as it’s done respectfully.
- Even in the best of circumstances, when you are fully present and practicing self-awareness, things can escalate quickly. But if you stay present, you will notice an energy shift that indicates that a disagreement is escalating into an argument.
- Bring awareness to the shift in energy
- When you notice the energy change between you and your colleague, comment on it. For example, you might say:
- “Things are getting tense.”
- “We are both starting to get upset.”
- “You look unhappy.”
- It might also help to pause the conversation. You can say:
- “I think we should take a few minutes to collect our thoughts.”
- If you ask them what’s going on or why they seem upset, then you have to listen to their answer. That is not the time to get defensive, interrupt them, or disagree.
- When you notice the energy change between you and your colleague, comment on it. For example, you might say:
- Own your part
- Acknowledge that you did or said something that upset your co-worker, even if it was unintentional. Do this for the sake of something bigger than yourself, whether that is your job, the team, or the organization. This can put the conflict in perspective.
- It reminds you that being right or making your point is not the priority at that moment. The priority is to resolve the conflict. By taking responsibility for your part, you build rapport with your colleague.
- After your colleague acknowledges that you’ve taken responsibility for your part, you can mention that you are also unhappy with something they said or did. However, you should be prepared that they might get defensive and not hear what you are telling them.
- It’s important that you remain calm and not re-engage in the disagreement. Be respectful, but also let them know that they also have some responsibility for the conflict.
- You cannot make someone own their part. You can only control yourself, your reaction, and how you choose to show up. But if you follow these three steps, you’ll have a much better chance of resolving the conflict in a way that preserves your working relationship.
Senior Editor, Tandem
As a professional with 25+ years of work experience, including working as an Office Manager and supporting the HR department, I am familiar with workplace conflict and how to resolve issues.
Below are some tips I have on conflict resolution:
Employers have to listen to their employees
One of the most important things employers can do is listen to their employees. When a worker complains of conflict, their feelings come from somewhere. Whether it is a perceived issue or an actual problem, the best way to resolve the conflict is to truly understand the situation.
Practice open-mindedness when handling conflict
Many situations in offices are affected by how people perceive what is happening to or around them. When an employee explains a circumstance to you, be open-minded because that is how they perceive what is or has happened. Their perception (whether or not it is wholly accurate) still has validity.
Have something that you can go back and refer to
If you are made aware of a conflict in writing, keep the documentation on file. Have something that you can go back and refer to, if necessary. If possible, record the meeting with the employee’s consent if you have a meeting. When having any meetings, take copious notes if these meetings aren’t recorded.
Get all sides of the story before taking any actions
There is a famous saying by film producer Robert Evans, “There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth.” Each person involved will have a different insight into what they think happened. Make sure to get all sides of the story before taking any actions.
Gather all the evidences before reacting
For some people, their instinct when they hear about a situation is to immediately react to this. If they don’t have all of the pertinent information relating to the problem, it might worsen. So before reacting, gather all the evidence.
Learn from the past to prevent the same in the future
One of the best things in life is learning. When there is conflict, make sure to learn as much as you can from the situation to avoid a similar situation in the future and better handle any comparable problems that might arise.
Partner, Lighthouse NINE Group | Author, “Truth Warriors“
When actions are based on assumptions, conflict occurs
We all make assumptions. We can’t help it. We are programmed to make inferences from tiny bits of information to quickly assess the situation and determine how to act. But when our actions are based on wrong assumptions, conflict occurs.
Let me tell you Anita’s story. She was frustrated with her manager because she was excluded from a high-profile project that she had hoped to be on.
Instead, her manager chose her colleague Zara to be on the team. Anita didn’t believe that Zara was the right fit. She didn’t think she had the experience or the time to properly contribute.
At first, Anita stewed about the situation. She found herself self-reflecting on every decision her manager made. She started to wonder if her manager really understood the team. She began to believe that maybe her manager wasn’t very good at her job. Anita’s work began to suffer.
She didn’t think it was worth putting in all that extra effort if her manager wasn’t even going to notice. And when Zara asked her to take on some of her previous work, she resisted and complained to her other colleagues that she was getting dumped on.
But then Anita stopped. And did something bold (and scary). She called up her manager and declared her assumptions. She started by stating her intentions;
“I don’t expect you to change anything, but I have some assumptions that I would like you to validate. I have been upset, and I’m not sure I have a reason to be“.
She then shared how she was disappointed about not being considered for the project and how she didn’t think Zara had the experience or time to do the job properly.
Her manager responded:
“Thank you for coming to me with this. I did not realize that you were disappointed about not being selected. I assumed that this wasn’t the kind of work you wanted to do.
Zara ran a very similar project at her past company, and I hoped that some of the work that she is currently doing would pass to you. And I really thought you would enjoy and benefit from that. I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you about it first.“
Anita suddenly realized that her assumptions were wrong. Her manager had considered the impact on her, and Zara did have the experience to run the project and was trying to give the work that she would enjoy. A huge weight lifted off her, and her beliefs shifted.
Jumping to conclusions based on our assumptions
Just as Anita learned, we all jump to conclusions based on our assumptions. Those assumptions affect our beliefs, and those beliefs influence our actions. If, instead, we assume positive intent and inquire when we believe otherwise, we would put a stop to a number of workplace conflicts that arise.
It’s not easy to do. It starts by recognizing that your assumptions might, in fact, be wrong. In Anita’s case, she did not necessarily believe that she was wrong, but she considered it an option, and she declared it as such. It’s a little bit of the ‘fake it till you make it’ philosophy; even if you don’t think you are wrong, pretend that you might be.
Conflict begins and ends with our assumptions. By having the courage to acknowledge them and share them, you open the door for better understanding. If you believe something about someone, ask to make sure it’s true.
Begin with the assumption that everyone is there to do a good job; it might just not be the same job you expect of them. Only then can we begin to diffuse workplace conflict.
Leadership and Team Coach, Spiral Impact | Author, “Spiral Impact“
From conflict to collaboration
As easy as riding a bike! or don’t get stuck at peddling – look up to move through conflict.
It was unbearable and sad for these healthcare workers; two departments were at a standstill. When they tried to get together to ‘hash out’ and solve their problems, many team members would cry or leave.
That is when I was asked if I could possibly help. Since this is my specialty, I said, “I’d love to.” Then, I learned I had 30 minutes at 3 PM on Good Friday! I was up for the challenge though. This was a healthcare team. A lot of passion was in the room.
When I hear groups have been trying to hash things out unsuccessfully, I always smile. I know when you focus so much on the problem, it exaggerates it. The day arrived, I walked into a small conference room; tension was high, each side positioned across from each other visibly upset with the situation.
To their surprise, I asked the group, “How many of you have ridden a bike?” Everyone raises their hand. Then I asked, “How many of you have ridden a bike up a hill?” Again, everyone raised their hands.
Then I asked, “Have you noticed how much easier it is to ride up a hill looking at the top of the hill than looking down at your feet?” Smiles erupted. I asked, “What is at the top of your hill?“
I explained the pedals are like the struggle. They were trying so hard to pedal they forgot where they were going. It is much easier when they focus on where they want to be! I listened and wrote down carefully each person’s vision for the top of the hill.
Yes, in 30 minutes, they shifted to looking to the future. I continued to work with them, but that little exercise worked shifted everything.
Founder and CEO, David Aylor Law Offices
Workplace discrimination or harassment creates a hostile environment
One of the worst cases of workplace conflict comes when an employee claims that a teammate or manager has discriminated against their
- sexual orientation
- national origin
Or a teammate or manager harassed them to the point of creating an intimidating, abusive, or hostile environment.
Listen carefully if an employee is making a claim
Discrimination and harassment are historically very underreported because employees fear the social and professional repercussions of such a report, so listen carefully if an employee is making a claim.
Management’s legal duty is to keep the workplace safe
Management must take action when they hear rumors of harassment at work because it’s their legal duty to keep the workplace safe for their team.
You must ask both parties to describe the events that occurred and record any relevant facts regarding times and dates, witnesses involved, and other facts. Express clearly that any retaliation is not tolerated, and conduct a thorough investigation from the facts you gathered.
Write a very clear anti-harassment policy
Consider outsourcing some harassment prevention training from an unbiased third-party provider for your entire team, and once you’ve worked through the situation at hand, take any actions required to resolve the situation fairly.
Write a very clear anti-harassment policy for your team, and beware that a harassed employee may take their case to the courts if you do not treat them in a just way.
Listen objectively to both sides of the argument
During most conflict situations, while one person is speaking, the other person spends that time formulating their response instead of really listening.
My job as a mediator is to listen objectively to both sides of the argument and at the same time ensure that each part is really making an effort to listen to the other party.
I want to make sure that they are each really hearing the other side of the argument. I try to show empathy for both sides and keep everyone’s emotions under control and nonjudgemental.
Resolve the conflict collaboratively
Give each party an opportunity to tell their side of the situation without interruption and analyze the problem from each person’s perspective. As a group, try and collaboratively come up with a solution. As you move forward, agree to meet as a group to continue to resolve any issues that may arise in the future.
It’s important to remain neutral as a mediator
I have always found it beneficial to enter into conflict resolution without any preconceived opinions or ideas about who is right or wrong. If I can’t be impartial, I will let someone else step in as a mediator. You need to be seen as fair and not take sides.
Being a mediator comes with the territory when you’re a CEO. It’s important to show leadership and learn how to become skilled at conflict resolution. You may not always get it right, but remember, practice makes perfect.
Principal and CEO, True North HR
Workplace conflicts can be a source of stress and can be challenging to resolve, depending on the level of seriousness and complexity. Workplace conflicts can stem from various situations like differences in opinion, personality clashes, stress, etc.
Resolving them in a professional manner will vary depending on the type of person and their roles, but there are many endless strategies for colleagues to come to an agreement.
Conflict arises from differences in opinion
If a conflict arises from differences in opinion, one of the most beneficial ways to mediate the conversation is by ensuring that both parties are heard. Be sure that each individual is able to speak their mind and take bits and pieces of each point to come to a compromised agreement.
If there is a situation where an individual’s opinion is valued over another, address the reasoning and ensure the other individual’s side is still recognized in order to reassure their value in the company.
Personality clashes can be a source of many conflicts
In most organizations, personality clashes can be a source of many conflicts internally. In this case, leadership and HR need to understand each person’s communicative style to create a harmonious atmosphere. Leaders can also take proactive measures by setting up personality and work style assessments to understand employee needs better.
Employees may be under a great deal of stress
In some cases, employees might be incredibly stressed, leading to some rifts in professional relationships. If HR and leadership notice these conflicts, it might be good to implement more resources and assistance to alleviate some of the stress.
Head of People, Tidio
Every leader has a unique management style
All leaders have different management styles, and, unfortunately, sometimes they happen to clash with each other. Two leaders may find it hard to compromise when it comes to certain tasks or situations, which may result in a conflict.
To prevent and solve these issues, it’s essential for leaders to be highly aware of their leadership styles, how they work, and the personalities of their teammates and fellow leaders. They should be flexible and able to adjust and cooperate with others no matter their preferred leadership style.
Conflicts of interest between tasks
When several people are working on one project, they are bringing in different perspectives, approaches, and talents to it. However, it also creates a field for a potential conflict.
When the communication and tasks are badly coordinated, misunderstanding and miscommunication issues are practically inevitable. A possible solution? Clear communication and reporting guidelines as well as efficient task delegation.
Perception is different from reality
We are all humans, and, of course, we all have personal preferences when it comes to people’s characters. Sometimes, you might have a conflict with someone simply because you don’t like them.
It’s crucial to remember that your perception might be different from reality and that personalities and work collaboration do not necessarily have to go hand in hand.
Handling discrimination and harassment in the workplace
This is a more serious type of conflict that usually requires external intervention from HR and management. If there is any discrimination happening in the company, it has to take serious action to work on its culture and policies regarding the issue.
Marketing Director, Diggity Marketing
Conflicts with style
Our team at the workplace, in most cases, conflicted with style. And at that time, I decided to talk to the ones involved on New Year’s Eve at a library which was my perfect spot to reflect and to think.
When we met up, I straightened and talked to them about the five chairs I learned about from Louise Evans.
- The red or the jackal chair lets people judge.
- The yellow or the hedgehog chair made people doubt themselves.
- While the green or the meerkat chair taught them to wait.
- The blue or the dolphin chair had people detecting the flaws.
- And the purple or the giraffe chair taught them to connect.
They judged each other for their styles by choosing the jackal chair without mercy because they were poles apart in the way they worked. In my opinion, such issues arise due to a lack of communication, clarity, intimacy, and understanding of the team they worked with.
A team that blames each other because of differing ideologies will never succeed. The yellow, green, and blue chairs are essential but will not suffice to resolve the conflict. So, I advised them to choose the purple chair to resolve personality or style issues.
Choosing it, we become the giraffe. We use our long necks to listen to people, drop our egos, positional superiority and ask for their opinions. In such cases, our heart is large, and we stay transparent, maintain effective communication and make our goals clear.
In my opinion, the Five Chair analogy can help solve every workplace conflict depending upon the type of conflict in question.
President, All Reverse Mortgage, Inc.
Struggle with the hierarchy because so many people are new to remote work
Many businesses struggle to maintain a definable hierarchical structure because many people don’t know where to lead their questions. Those starting at the bottom are given instructions to send their questions to the unknown faces of people they can only communicate with over platforms like Skype.
This highly impersonal method of communication makes it difficult for newbies to know where they’re sending their questions. At the end of the day, they sometimes send their questions and concerns into the ether where only fellow workers at the bottom can commiserate.
Those in the management positions often struggle to keep up with the newbies
Since remote work is growing all the time, managers are often the people who are hit the hardest. They have to keep up with the constant influx of employees and often aren’t assigned to just one person, but many.
As a result, the people in higher positions are often overworked and don’t provide the best information to the people below them. There are even CEOs who learn nothing about problems within the company because they’re too busy looking at other aspects.
To improve the hierarchical problems, set up a defined hierarchical system directly on your communication website.
The people within any business can benefit from seeing where they can direct their problems. If anyone has a problem identifying where they can address the right people, they can always look at the chart. Break your company down into the right groups, creating easy communication lines for everyone.
CEO and Founder, Best Online Traffic School
Unhealthy work culture
Discrimination, bullying, and power-tripping are just a few examples of a toxic work environment. These are concerns that have to do with the organization as a whole.
Some companies want employees to have a work-life balance, yet due to the nature of their business, a small number of companies prefer to have their staff work with them 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Work-life balance is one example of unhealthy work culture.
These are the employers who require staff to respond to their issues after hours, on weekends, and on vacation days. When it comes to working, they have no limitations, and working overtime represents productivity to them.
An employer and an employee may dispute the quality of the employee’s work in some instances. For example, the employee may consider himself as productive and performing quality service, whereas the employer may see the person’s job as ineffective and in need of development.
This type of disagreement might emerge if the standard of the duties assigned to the employee is unclear.
Actively listen to the concerns
It’s time to actively listen to the employee’s and/or employer’s concerns now that you’ve identified and clarified the basis of the issue. Active listening includes empathic listening and understanding of both parties’ concerns in order to resolve the issue successfully.
This is critical since most employers listen to employees not to understand them but to respond to or address their complaints.
Employers can genuinely understand what an employee is going through — their experiences, feelings, and what they really want – by actively listening to them and then offering solutions to solve the problem and avoid it from happening again effectively.
One example of workplace conflict can be when leadership has a disagreement in terms of policies, operating procedures, or standards in the workplace. In a digital workplace, this shows up when it comes to digital strategy, remote work policies, and the use of software and/or technology.
To handle this kind of conflict in the workplace, it’s important to have all decision-makers in alignment with one another. The best way to do this is to have an all-hands-on-deck meeting in which people can freely and openly challenge one another and discuss issues completely in-depth in order to come to an agreement.
Rules for this type of meeting need to be set to ensure that communication is open and free, and people are given time to speak as well as ensuring that they are open and receptive to listening. As long as this happens, agreements and compromises can be made.
Resistance to change
People become enslaved to their routines because they are comfortable and simple to follow. Change brings with it a dread of the unknown, which not everyone is prepared to face. Change may be difficult, and it frequently leads to conflict between members of a team and management.
It’s important to realize that some employees will experience denial, rage, and uncertainty while they adjust to change. Resisting the unknown is a natural human reaction, and it’s not uncommon for this resistance to turn hostile.
Taking these things into account and guiding team members through the shifting process will result in a smoother and healthier transition:
- Make the reasons for the change clear.
- Include your team members in the process so that they feel like they’re a part of it.
- Team members should be trained on their new work responsibilities.
- Your team is less likely to get embroiled in a change-related conflict if they are calm, relaxed, and receptive to change and progress.
HR Business Partner, spacelift.io
Set clear expectations for communication
One of the most common reasons workplace conflicts arise is the failure to communicate clearly. It could be a more significant issue if the company operates on several time zones with a remote or hybrid work model, blurring the lines for clear communication even further.
Poor communication often creates a tense environment where people are not motivated to be productive and not inspired to collaborate. This lack of motivation affects how employees relate to clients and potential customers, negatively affecting the bottom line.
Resolving conflict caused by failure to communicate depends on having both parties express what might have been done differently. It is essential to look at the situation and determine exactly what happened. How and why it transformed into a conflict to ensure such instances are avoided in the future.
Managers need to set clear expectations for communication going forward and clarify what is expected from each employee in their role. All parties involved should practice active listening to make sure they understand each other.
Community Manager, LiveCareer
Work-style conflict and miscommunication
Remote work has changed the way we work and interact with others. We can no longer stop by each other’s desks to discuss the details of our current project or exchange some thoughts in an elevator. This situation also affected workplace conflicts and the way employees resolve them.
One of the conflicts that I see more often when working from home is a work-style conflict. We can experience it in simple things like responding to Slack messages. While some people react immediately to any notification they receive, others take longer as they don’t want to get distracted when performing a task.
Both of these approaches are okay, but they may lead to frustration and false assumptions from both sides.
For example, you might feel offended that your colleague is not responding to you on time and assume that he’s ignoring you. The truth might be that he’s simply busy with other things and his delayed response has nothing to do with you.
That’s why it’s essential to openly communicate with your team and ensure that conflict doesn’t escalate simply because of various working styles.
Community Engagement Team Lead, BarBend
Learning how to manage workplace conflict may help company owners establish stronger teams and healthier workplace culture. Learn about some frequent examples of workplace conflict and good management practices that will assist managers in the resolution process.
Examples of workplace conflict:
- Leadership conflicts
- Workstyle conflicts
- Personality-based conflicts
- Creative idea conflict
You’ll want to make sure that you face conflict head-on. Do not turn a blind eye to it, as it will take an expansive toll on your organization. If your goal is to guide your team through a time of conflict, you will have to display the traits of a servant leader. This means you work to guide and counsel conflicting parties and navigate the process of conflict resolution.
Use these methods to resolve conflict:
- Call for respect, make an effort to listen, and understand others’ views.
- Use “I” statements.
- Brainstorm solutions.
- Establish trust by opening a direct line of communication.
- Summarize possible options.
- Confirm that all parties agree.
- Ask parties to apologize and praise each other for their efforts to resolve the issue.
Workplace conflict will arise, that is inevitable, but being able to push through it by working together is crucial to your organization’s environment.
CEO and Co-Founder, Yarooms
Not everyone is on the same page
What would you say is the root cause of the majority of workplace conflicts? In my opinion, it comes down to cognitive dissonance.
What is cognitive dissonance and why does it matter at work?
Imagine I’m person X and I’m trying to work on something with person Y. For me, this project is incredibly important and needs to be done perfectly, ASAP.
For person Y, even though they’re roughly in the same place, this attitude doesn’t jive because this project is just one on their list and not given the same importance.
So then, from my perspective, if person Y isn’t jumping to then you start to develop a grudge. Why can’t person Y take this as seriously as me!?
How to fight cognitive dissonance in the workplace?
In my experience, the problem comes down to not everyone being on the same page on the relative importance, timelines, effort levels, etc., of various projects. What else is new, right? Wrong.
I find this issue is often easily fixable with a bit of effort on the part of project managers and leaders. Clearer delivery deadlines and more frequent communications that highlight relative levels of importance of various projects (instead of having everything be A+ important all the time) make project teams work together much more smoothly.
SEO Specialist, UNAGI
Major absence or tardiness problem
Some employees have a major absence or tardiness problem. Other employees may suffer as a result of these absences, especially if they are unplanned. On the other hand, a late employee may force another employee to stay late to cover until they arrive. Although these disputes are understandable, they must be handled professionally.
Tips for handling tardiness and absenteeism
Having a pleasant attitude while dealing with an employee that isn’t usually on time at work is always beneficial. Negative reinforcement will not assist a slacker in improving; instead, you must encourage them to improve.
Employees who miss work should be treated with sympathy (to a point) by management, who should also acknowledge that employees are human and have shortcomings. If the absences or tardiness are new, have a conversation with them about what’s going on in their lives.
However, management should address these concerns. After all, it’s not the responsibility of a coworker if an employee is absent from work, and they shouldn’t have to bear the burden alone.
If this is a reoccurring problem, address it as soon as possible and offer help to staff who are expected to take on additional responsibilities.
Disagreements due to ineffective communication
Disagreements between inventory and marketing teams usually arise due to ineffective communication. Although these departments rely on each other to drive positive results, they often operate as separate entities.
In an ideal scenario, marketing liaises their campaign plans with inventory to ensure that stock levels will sustain the upcoming promotion. Failure to collaborate creates an imbalance where the company typically under-stocks and misses profits. Consequently, the sales division also gets pulled into the crossfire.
Professional development activities and training sessions centered around team collaboration help educate staff on their interconnected department roles and fosters a more harmonious working environment.
Human Resource Management would have to step in here, so it’s easy to see how workplace conflicts can impact your organization on multiple levels.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the most common signs of conflict in the workplace?
Workplace conflict can manifest in various ways and is not always explicit or visible. Here are some common signs that indicate workplace conflict:
– Tension or hostility between individuals or groups
– Avoidance of communication or interaction
– Negative gossip or rumors
– Reduced collaboration or teamwork
– Increased absenteeism or turnover
– Decreased job satisfaction or performance
– Increased complaints or grievances
– Physical symptoms such as headaches, anxiety, or sleep disturbances
Can I refuse to work with someone with whom I am in conflict?
It is not advisable to refuse to work with someone you are in conflict with. If you refuse to work with someone, it may cause more tension and disruption and affect the work of other employees.
Refusing to cooperate with others may be considered insubordination or misconduct, which may result in disciplinary action or termination. Avoiding communication or refusing to work with colleagues will not lead to a productive and healthy work environment.
It is crucial to address the conflict and attempt to work with the parties in dispute to find a solution. If the conflict cannot be resolved, it is best to seek the help of the supervisor or HR department to mediate the situation.
When should I involve Human Resources in resolving workplace conflicts?
In certain situations, it may be necessary to involve Human Resources in resolving workplace conflicts, particularly if it involves discrimination, harassment, or other unethical or illegal conduct.
You should involve Human Resources when:
– The conflict is a violation of company policy or law
– The conflict cannot be resolved through normal channels or mediation
– The conflict poses a threat to employees or the work environment
What resources are available to individuals and organizations to improve their conflict resolution skills?
Workshops and training programs: Workshops and training programs offered by conflict resolution experts can provide individuals and organizations with valuable insights and practical skills.
Online courses: Online courses offered by reputable institutions or organizations can provide individuals with flexible and accessible learning opportunities.
Books and articles: Reading books and articles by conflict resolution experts can provide individuals with new perspectives and practical strategies.
Coaching and mentoring: Engaging a coach or mentor can provide individuals with personalized feedback and guidance to improve their conflict resolution skills.
Professional associations: Professional associations such as the Association for Conflict Resolution can provide networking opportunities, resources, and training to individuals and organizations.
Conflict resolution experts: Consulting with conflict resolution experts can provide organizations with specialized expertise and customized solutions for effective conflict management.
What are some consequences of unresolved workplace conflict?
– Lower productivity and efficiency.
– High employee absenteeism and turnover rates.
– Loss of employee morale and negative impact on workplace culture.
– Increased employee stress, anxiety, and decreased mental health.
– Litigation and lawsuits.
– Decreased company reputation and revenue.
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