Workplace Conflict

Alan Price – Chief Operations Officer

July 17 2015

Different working styles can contribute to workplace conflict in your business.

As an employer, you should analyse your own management style and the influence your decisions have on others.

Failure to prevent conflicts can have negative consequences. Such as, an inability to compromise and a lack of trust among your team.

In this guide, we'll explain what workplace conflict is, different types of them, and how employers can manage conflict in the workplace.

What is a workplace conflict?

A workplace conflict is when you see disagreements between colleagues. Conflicts usually happen because individuals have opposing ideas, different personalities, or inner beliefs.

Conflicting ideas are a natural element of doing business and life. However, a conflict in the workplace can easily escalate and get out of hand. And sometimes, arguments can become unprofessional, hurtful, and even unlawful.

What causes workplace conflicts?

Modern workplace conflict can happen through several reasons. That’s why it’s important to find the root causes and manage them in the best way.

such as personality clashes, overwhelming workloads, and scarcity of resources. There are other sources of conflict that could result in decreased productivity in the workplace, such as:

  • Insufficient management styles or resources
  • Unfair treatment between colleagues.
  • Poor communication or work styles.
  • Personality clashes.
  • Bullying, harassment, and victimisation.

When conflict arises, productivity suffers. While it's not always possible to totally prevent conflict, it's important to recognise common causes and help stop them at an early stage.

What are different types of workplace conflicts?

There are several different types of conflicts you can face at work. Here are a few examples in more depth:

Interdependency conflicts

These disagreements happen when individuals in a shared project need to coordinate their tasks.

For example, a payroll department accountant needs relevant data to complete their work. Their colleague fails to submit reports on time–resulting in unfinished work. The solution here is to delegate tasks to the team, so they can be completed within an appropriate timeframe.

A manager should explain the significance of responsibility and accountability to their employee. Outline responsibilities helps everyone stay on the same page when deadlines arrive.

Leadership conflicts

Every manager has their own unique leadership style. And every employee responds to styles differently.

Some leaders are charismatic, while others are more approachable and friendly. Some stick to tight deadlines, while others are so hands-off that you barely notice them.

To solve potential conflicts, you should emphasise mutual respect of differences throughout the company.

Leaders should be conscious of their own styles and how they deal with different team members. To avoid potential conflicts, they should foster mutual respect for differences throughout the company.

If you're a leader, you should be able to relate to your employees, no matter how you prefer to lead them.

Workstyle conflicts

Workstyles are as diverse as leadership styles.

Some people prefer to work in groups, whilst others work better alone. Some can finish work with no guidance, and others need advice at every stage.

The concept of mutual respect applies throughout, especially during workplace conflicts and interactions with others.

Regardless of your preferred workstyle or team efforts, ideas come from collaboration rather than thinking alone. In other words, people must learn how to deal with external differences.

Personality-based conflicts

Due to individual differences, you won't always like others you meet. And it’s not easy to handle somebody whose character you find jarring.

Keep in mind who you see isn’t who they exactly are; or else this leads to interpersonal conflicts. And avoid creating bias opinions or future judgments before getting to know people.

For example, an employee is late for work for the second day in a row. They mention they’ve been having car problems. Instead of assuming they should fix this problem as soon as possible, try to be sympathetic. Instead of actioning lateness disciplinary, suggest they make up the time at the end whenever their car breaks down again.

Discrimination conflicts

When it comes to discrimination, you need to ensure employees are protected from such misconduct. Without reasonable management, your staff could face a number of discriminatory situations which easily become unlawful.

When a person faces discrimination in the workplace, it often requires line-managers or human-resources to get involved.

Line managers must emphasise open-mindedness, support, and understanding during these situations. Especially if bullying, harassment, or discrimination claims have been raised within the company.

Creative idea conflicts

When it comes to idea brainstorming, conflict is in fact an excellent opportunity to refine the idea.

Your employees should recognise other people's opinions, express their own, and then put the best parts together to create the best solution. If two people disagreed on a project idea, they can talk about it and come to an agreement on one or the other.

They could also seek a compromise so that both ideas can flourish while delivering an even greater conclusion. They could even approach another colleague or manager to moderate their discussions or express their personal opinion.

Remember, when competitions are handled properly, everyone gets a chance to learn and grow.

Two people conflicting with each other.

How to resolve conflicts in the workplace

Resolving conflicts are such an important duty for senior and line managers. Resolution helps create a pleasant and comfortable workplace for all employees.

You can easily grow productivity, loyalty, and respect–which all leads to business success.

By managing conflicts quickly and professionally, employees can see you care about their wellbeing and welfare–beyond their work duties.

Here are steps to take when managing conflicts in the workplace:

Clarify the source of conflict

In order to handle conflict, the first step is to clarify the root cause. Identifying the source of conflict can help you understand how the issue arose in the first place.

You'll also be able to convince both parties to agree on the nature of the disagreement. To do so, you should explain the needs that are not being satisfied on all sides of the issue.

You must also ensure mutual understanding. Obtain as much information as possible on each side's viewpoint. Continue to ask questions until you're certain that all parties involved understand the situation.

Unresolved conflict reduces productivity, stifles creativity, and creates barriers to teamwork and collaboration.

Find a safe and private area to talk

To have a productive conversation, you should first find a safe place in which to talk. In such a setting, you can have open and honest communication to resolve the issues at stake.

Try to arrange the meeting in a neutral location to prevent one party from feeling more at ease than the other. While you're there, make sure that everyone has enough time to express their opinions on the matter.

Allow everyone to speak, and listen carefully

Active listening is a great way to resolve workplace disputes. Give each of the parties the chance to express their opinions after getting them to meet. Don't favour one party over the other throughout the conversation.

While at the meeting, have a positive attitude and, if required, set ground rules. This will urge both sides to express their opinions honestly, understand the reasons behind the conflict, and find solutions.

Look into the situation

Take the time to look into the situation after hearing the concerns of both sides. Don't prejudge or make a decision based solely on the information you have.

Investigate more to learn more about the incident, involved parties, and how everyone is feeling. Have a private conversation with the people involved and pay close attention to what they're saying. You can do this by summarising their points and replicating them.

Furthermore, look for any underlying roots of conflict that might not be obvious or noticed right away.

Find solutions to meet the common goal

There has to be a common goal when managing conflict, which is to resolve disputes and prevent them from recurring. After finding the source of conflict, talking to both parties, and looking into the situation, you need to discuss the common goal with them.

In order to settle any situation in your team, you must first understand the various stages of conflict. This will allow you to find for the best solutions to achieve the common goal. Listen, talk, and brainstorm together until all possibilities have been explored.

Decide on the best solution and assign responsibilities

Your communication model is the foundation for managing and resolving conflict.

Employees find it easier to communicate with one another when they recognise that they all have the same goal in mind. After investigating the situation and identifying possible solutions, both parties should decide on the best approach.

In order to agree on the best solution, you should first identify the solutions that each side can work with. Find a common ground and then decide who's responsible for settling the conflict.

It's important to make use of this opportunity to identify the underlying cause and ensure that this problem doesn't recur.

You should invest in training managers and employees on how to address conflict and deal with early signs of unethical behaviour in the workplace.

Decide on precautions for the future based on the current situation

Never assume that disputes are inevitable, and keep in mind that effective communication should be the standard in your business.

You can avoid future disputes by proactively identifying areas of potential conflict and responding decisively.

Reflect back on previous conflicts and how you handled them. This will help you build and strengthen your conflict management skills.

Get advice on workplace conflicts from Peninsula

Conflict management is an important part of running a business. Employers have a vital role in mediating conflict in the workplace.

Failure to manage conflict can harm employee emotions, decreased productivity, and ruin business reputations.

Peninsula offers 24/7 HR advice which is available 365 days a year. We take care of everything when you work with our HR experts.

Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 051 3687 and book a free consultation with one of our HR consultants.

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