Causes of Workplace Conflict and Its Management

Written by: Vasundhara Shukla – M. Phil (Psychology)
Last updated date : March 23, 2023

An office is a place where people of different backgrounds and mindsets come to work towards a goal. These differences can either lead to better solutions or create rifts between people. The causes of workplace conflict can be varied and so is its management. In this article, we will discuss the most common causes of workplace conflict and how to resolve them.

The first thing to do in any kind of conflict is to see which parties are involved. The role of the leader is very important for companies in trying to control and prevent fights. Values such as respect, trust, and fairness can lead to a better outcome. Neither person should feel that they were not given a fair chance to be heard.

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Chapter 1:

Types of Conflicts at the Workplace

Fights can be common when people of different working styles work together. These may not always be outward fights between two people or parties. It can take the form of insulting others, bullying others, and not following orders for work. Whatever form workplace conflict takes, they almost always lead to more mistakes, more and more employees being absent from work, resignations, and termination.
Conflicts Because of the Task
Some fights occur when the task is unclear to people. The team leader should make the roles and responsibilities clear to each one so that the working of the team is smooth. Causes of this type of workplace conflict can be either faulty communication or unclear work.
Leadership Conflicts
Leaders have different ways of handling employees and the ideal situation would be when the style matches the personality of the employee. But in real life that hardly ever happens. To solve problems it is important to respect differences. Leaders should change their style of management according to the employee’s needs.
Work Style Conflict
Some people prefer to work in groups while others do their best work alone. Some people need no extra direction to complete a task, while others like feedback and direction every step of the way. A few employees would require more time to do some work as compared to others. People work differently. A workplace should be able to adjust to these differences for smooth working.
Creative Idea Conflict
When working in a team there is an exchange of creative ideas from all sides. In such an exchange, creative differences might lead to a conflict. To prevent it from becoming a creative divorce, one can hear all the ideas and opt for ideas that best fulfill goals.

Chapter 2:

Most Common Causes of Workplace Conflict

Not Accepting Change
One of the most common causes of workplace conflict is change. Change can be stressful and often results in conflict between team members and management.
Unclear Expectations
Clear information on what is expected of employees will help them perform better. Gaining clarity on what the job is and what is to be done helps improve workflow. Avoid conflicts by making team members aware of what’s expected of them, so they can perform with confidence.
Poor Communication
So many conflicts occur because of poor communication! An unclear message can create a lot of misunderstandings. It is important to keep communication clear for lesser fights by keeping the messages short and clear, improving listening skills, and taking care of gestures and expressions.
Bad Work Culture
What do we mean when we say a company has a bad work culture? A workplace filled with fighting, poor communication, and low morale. It also does not focus on the well-being of the people working there. It is one of the causes of workplace conflict.
Individual Differences
All the members of a work team come from different backgrounds, experiences, and temperaments. Leaders should not expect all the members to get along well with each other all the time. The only thing which helps in such an event is to know the differences and adjust according to that.

Chapter 3:

Understanding the Causes and Managing Workplace Conflicts

Immediately schedule a meeting with the people who are in conflict with each other and a manager at a neutral place. In such a meeting, ask the parties to listen and be respectful to each other. Ask all the parties to describe what the fight is about and what they want to be done. The participants should use ‘I’ rather than ‘you’ statements. Ask them to focus on specific behavior and problems rather than general statements. Make a summary of the conflict and identify the most common causes of the workplace conflict based on what the parties have said. Ask the parties to join the session to talk about possible solutions. Narrow down on workable solutions and then implement them. After 2-3 weeks ask for feedback on the solutions and if necessary, improve them further. Close the fight by asking the parties to apologize to each other and thank them for working through it.
Encouraging Trust
Creating a trusting culture is important which develops when leaders resolve fights justly and quickly. It is also good to praise employees who do the right thing in a difficult situation as this increases the right behaviors. When you create a culture of warmth, people will be more comfortable bringing up their problems and feedback on the table. You can also welcome differences of opinion as this encourages the inclusion of different perspectives. This removes the causes of conflict from the root as people trust and respect each other.
Seek Support From Outside
When you are unable to identify the causes of workplace conflict and solve problems at the workplace by yourself and your resolution team, take help from people who work in conflict resolution. Outside professionals can help is the following events-
  • Legal issues can harm the company.
  • If the leaders and HR dept fail to solve the conflict.
  • When there are issues that crop up again and again.
  • If these fights lead to bullying in the workplace.
Self Reflect
To understand the viewpoint of the other party, leaders should make an effort to get to know the reasons and motivation behind their position. Reflect on both sides of the situation. It helps to see from the other person’s point of view and helps you to understand what they’re thinking and feeling so you can resolve the conflict. Focus on where you agree and where you disagree and discuss it later with the other person.
Most Importantly, Calm Down!
The most important step in solving a fight is to calm down. If conflicts are solved when both parties are tense and did not get enough time to process how they feel and think about the situation, it might not be that fruitful. Give both the parties a breather and then start afresh.

Chapter 4:

Further Reading

If you think workplace conflicts are escalating way too out of control, we suggest enrolling in our course on ‘Anger Management‘.

"Structured and engaging course" Joan

69 sections

6-Weeks Self-Paced

  • Educational Content
  • Quizzes
  • Self-reflection material
  • Suggestions & feedback
  • Worksheet, tips & tools to use

$9.00 $12.00

25% discount