How to Reduce Conflicts at Work: A Guide
Written by: Ilbey Ucar – PhD (Psychology)
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You’re a good and sincere employee, and you just want to focus on your work. You want to get through your workday, and then get out. But then colleague XYZ enters your field of vision and your day is ruined. Do you struggle with difficult relationships with people at work? Do work conflicts reduce your productivity or that of your team? Perhapsyou feel like better managing the conflicts at work would make things better for you and others? This article will help you understand how to reduce conflicts at your workplace.
Understanding Conflicts at Work
We know that all people are different. You also probably know that most relationships, whether between friends, couples, or family members, have some conflict or the other. So it makes sense that many different people coming together to work together would have conflict too. Let’s look at some of the ways conflict happens at work. This understanding of how conflicts occur will also help you to reduce them at work. In other words, managing conflicts at work requires a good grasp of how these conflicts occur in the first place.
Taher Mohamed, a researcher, divided workplace conflicts into three types: relationship conflicts, task conflicts, and process conflicts. There are also other kinds and sources of workplace conflicts.
1. Relationship Conflicts
Some conflicts at work happen because there is a kind of mismatch between two people. Like we said earlier, most relationships have conflicts. Some people just don’t get along well. Basically, their personalities are the reason for the conflict. Have you ever met someone and immediately thought, “Oh, I don’t like this person”? Well, it happens to a lot of people.
Here, the conflict doesn’t really have much to do with the work, but with the people themselves. To reduce this kind of conflict at work, you may require a more personal approach than with other kinds of conflicts.
2. Task Conflicts
These are also called interdependence conflicts. It often happens in an organisation that one person’s work depends on the timely work of another. So if that person is late with their task, your work will be late too, because your work depends on them.
A common example used for this kind of conflict is the accountant and, say, the salesperson. If the salesperson doesn’t input sales figures on time, the accountant will be late with their report.
An organization often runs on the cooperation of multiple individuals and teams. You can see why this kind of conflict can be very harmful. This is true not only for the frustrated individuals, but also for the organsation as a whole.
3. Process Conflicts
Sometimes, people can disagree when working together towards the same goal. They may want to achieve this goal in different, and conflicting, ways. This is called a conflict in process. This is not about personality clashes. And it’s not about clashing roles. You just disagree with someone on how something should be done. Understanding this as a cause of conflict can help to reduce said conflicts at work.
4. Role Conflicts
Here, the conflict has to do with the kind of work people are doing. Your role at work may naturally put you at odds with a person in another role. For example, you’re in charge of the quality of a product. Your role means that you have to prioritize quality over everything else. Another person in your company may be in charge of bringing down costs in the company. Your roles can easily conflict.
Here, your conflict may have nothing to do with the person. If you met outside work, you may even be good friends! But your roles at work mean that you are often in disagreement. Often this kind of conflict arises between members of an organisation and the management of the same organisation. Members at every level of the organization may need to plan together to reduce these kinds of conflicts at work.
5. Discrimination and Harassment
Some kinds of conflict have more serious undertones. Perhaps you know that your boss at work discriminates against you because of your caste, race, skin colour, gender or any other socio-economic factors in your background. This violates your human rights and can be a severe roadblock at work.
You may also face harassment that may not necessarily be part of some social pattern. One example is sexual harassment. Sexual harassment at work is a lot more common than we would like it to be. It can also happen in many forms, some of which the people around you may not even recognise as harassment. It can be very demeaning and damaging to be the target of any kind of harassment, sexual or otherwise.
This kind of conflict needs a lot of careful, honest work to root out. If ignored, managing these kinds of conflicts at work can become very difficult and can be very harmful for both employees and the company.
How to Deal With Conflict
There are many complex ways to talk about how to reduce conflict at work. We’ll look at some basic ways that apply to all the types of conflict we’ve seen above.
1. Take a Breath
Basically, calm down. You can’t really do anything useful to manage those conflicts at work when your heart is pumping blood that hard. It may be true that things have been very unfair for you lately. Try and see the situation more objectively, and especially try to see it from the other person or persons’ point of view.
2. Find a Way to Talk
It may be tempting to avoid a direct conversation about the problems that you and your colleague(s) are having. We get it, these conversations are awkward and hard to navigate. But a dialogue, or several, is the only way to reduce the conflicts at work. Managing conflicts at work simply doesn’t happen without dialogue. Find a neutral place away from both parties’ offices, away from work. Talk there. If you’re a manager, you’ll have to organise the whole thing and get everyone at the table.
Everybody gets to have a say. And you need to listen to everyone. This is the only way to make sure all the problems are out in the open, and that everyone feels their concerns are valued.
Now that you have all the information, everyone needs to agree on what the core problem is. You will have to come up with better ways of doing things at work so conflicts don’t arise. And if they do, there has to be a plan to defuse it. The solution has to be something that makes all parties happy.
5. Stick to the Plan
Now that there’s a plan that everyone likes, you need to follow it. It won’t be easy to make this the new normal, but it’s the only way to reduce conflict. To conclude, work conflicts can happen because of many reasons. To manage work conflicts, you first need to understand them and their cause in your particular situation. Then use the tips above to arrive at a solution, with some effort. We hope that this article helps you to reduce and manage conflicts at work. If you’d like to know more on this topic, read our article on Handling Conflicts At Work. If you’d like to learn how to deal with the difficult emotions that can result from difficult relationships, you can also check out our course DBT For Anger.