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What is workplace conflict?

Webster’s dictionary defines conflict as a sharp disagreement or opposition of interests or ideas. Anytime people work together, conflict is a part of ‘doing business’. Conflict is a normal and natural part of any workplace. When it occurs, there is a tendency for morale to be lowered, an increase in absenteeism and decreased productivity. It has been estimated that managers spend at least 25 percent of their time resolving workplace conflicts – causing lowered office performance.

Handling and resolving conflicts that arise in the workplace is one of the biggest challenges managers and employees face. Typically there are two responses to conflict: run away (avoidance) or ‘battle it out’. In either case, we often feel uncomfortable or dissatisfied with the results because no resolution has been achieved. By learning to constructively resolve conflict, we can turn a potentially destructive situation into an opportunity for creativity and enhanced performance.

Sources of Conflict

There are many causes or reasons for conflict in any work setting. Some of the primary causes are:

  • Poor Communication: different communication styles can lead to misunderstandings between employees or between employee and manager. Lack of communication drives conflict ‘underground’.
  • Different Values: any workplace is made up of individuals who see the world differently. Conflict occurs when there is a lack of acceptance and understanding of these differences.
  • Differing Interests: conflict occurs when individual workers ‘fight’ for their personal goals, ignoring organizational goals and organizational well-being.
  • Scarce Resources: too often, employees feel they have to compete for available resources in order to do their job. In a resource scarce environment, this causes conflicts – despite awareness of how scarce resources may be.
  • Personality Clashes: all work environments are made up of differing personalities. Unless colleagues understand and accept each other’s approach to work and problem-solving, conflict will occur.
  • Poor Performance: when one or more individuals within a work unit are not performing - not working up to potential – and this is not addressed, conflict is inevitable.

How can I resolve this conflict?

Communication in the Workplace