The 5 Most Common Workplace Conflicts & What You Can Do About Them
High staff turnover, absenteeism, excess sick leave, problems with productivity, poor company culture, hushed voices around the office… this can all be a result of workplace conflict that is poorly handled.
If conflict is not adequately dealt with, it can even lead to more serious HR and legal problems.
It is almost inevitable wherever and whenever humans interact and have relationships – we all have different backgrounds, beliefs, and expectations. In this sense, businesses are no different to social situations or personal relationships.
However, with businesses, where the focus is on performance and productivity, unmanaged conflict can be damaging to team morale, company culture, and getting results. This makes conflict especially challenging to address – particularly for managers who aren’t used to mediating in disputes.
So what are some of the typical areas of conflict in a business – and how can you go about solving them before they get out of hand?
Here are five areas to be on the lookout for…
1. Leadership conflicts
Leaders are often expected to step in and resolve conflicts; but what if the leaders themselves are at the centre of it?
This can be the case, especially where inexperienced leaders are promoted rapidly into the position and are ill-equipped to cope with the extra pressures that the role entails.
This high-pressure environment coupled with inexperience and the variety of different leadership styles can lead to conflict. It can be hard both for employees to adapt to different ways of leading and for leaders from different departments to work together effectively, as is usually required in medium-sized or larger organisations.
Work on longer-term succession strategies where qualified leaders take the step up – with the necessary man-management skills as well as the professional skills; when hiring, hire the type of leadership style that fits into the workplace culture and organisational values you’re building.
2. Departmental conflicts
The marketing and product development department is waiting for feedback from the sales guys on the road about what clients are asking for. The sales guys are busy and don’t get this feedback into the system in a timely manner, leaving the marketers frustrated because they can’t build a budget; and this also cause problems with the finance department.
Inter-departmental conflicts are common. This problem is closely connected to the leadership one as departments without strong leadership may drag their heels.
Make sure that employees’ roles and responsibilities are clarified upfront and everyone is aware of what’s expected of them – and why. If leaders are not able to get their teams cooperating they may need extra training – or replacing.
3. Personality clashes
People are just different. They have different perceptions and behaviours, underpinned by different backgrounds, cultures, and belief systems – and this can lead to different expectations of the work environment and conflicts with those who don’t see eye to eye or behave differently.
In the short-term, it takes people with strong mediation skills to resolve such conflicts of personality. It requires someone who can take an independent stance and understand the needs of both employees, empathise with them, and who can help put strong emotions to one side.
Longer-term, personalities may still differ but setting out clear policies and behavioural guidelines in employee manuals should help clarify expectations of what’s acceptable; and training people in workplace diversity and emotional intelligence should help to grow tolerance and understanding of others.
4. Work style clashes
Employees can fall out if there are perceived problems in the way they work.
For instance, if one employee likes to clear all their work on a daily basis but a colleague working on a different aspect of the same job (and who is otherwise proficient) tends to leave everything to the last minute on a Friday to ensure their part of the job gets done, the potential for conflict is obvious.
This type of conflict also requires a strong mediator who can understand both sides of the coin and ensures that both employees feel that their opinion is important. A compromise can usually be reached.
5. ‘Creative’ idea conflict
We often get hung up on the negative aspects of conflict but is there a positive side to all this?
Well, possibly. When conflict arises because of a difference in ideas, the result can be creativity and innovation. This can lead to creative solutions to problems, as well as new products and services.
If this is handled well, it becomes positive for an organisation. The key is respect for other people. It’s fine to have conflicts of ideas and opinions – as long as it’s managed and doesn’t become personal or overstep what’s acceptable.
It’s worth noting that the 2008 CPP Global Human Capital Report on Workplace Conflict found that:
“…conflict has a bounty of positive potential, which if harnessed correctly, can stimulate progress in ways harmony often cannot.”
“Roughly three quarters of workers reported positive outcomes that resulted from conflict – results that in all likelihood would not have been produced if conflict was not initiated. “
No solution needed! It can be encouraged within a healthy environment of trust and respect.
Some workplace conflict should be expected – but it needs to be carefully managed if you want to avoid its potential negative effects on other employees, company culture, and productivity.
Building an open culture with effective communication, where people are emotionally intelligent enough to understand their own emotional triggers and also consider the feelings of others is key.
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