Workplace conflict: where it comes from and how to address it

Successfully resolving conflict in the workplace is important to maintaining healthy professional relationships between staff, management, and clients. It increases staff productivity, reduces workplace stress, helps maintain staff retention, improves team culture and increases job and client satisfaction.

Conflict can occur in any workplace, at any time. It can arise out of a magnitude of reasons such as different communication styles, backgrounds, personality clashes, opposing ideas or due to organisation change. There is no limitation on who it can occur between, including  co-workers, staff and management, different areas, or between services providers and clients.

Workplace conflict can have a detrimental impact on individuals, teams, organisations, and business operations. When conflict arises in the workplace addressing the dispute as soon as possible can help stop conflict escalating, reduces tension between parties and decreases the likelihood of other staff getting involved.

Five examples of workplace conflict

  1. Leadership – people lead and communicate in different ways and individual staff respond differently to various leadership styles. Mismanagement of organisation change, staff feeling unsupported and misunderstood can also attribute to conflict between staff and management.
  2. Personality – there are a variety of personalities in the workplace and at times there are people we do not gel with. We spend a large amount of time at work and dealing with personalities we find challenging can make for trying times.
  3. Interdependence – we often rely on other team members to complete a task before we can complete ours. For example, a Pay Role Officer can not complete pays if time sheets are constantly late. Tasks completed incorrectly, incomplete, or constantly received late are examples of why interdependence conflict can arise.
  4. Work style – we all develop different ways of working. Some people work well in teams while others prefer to work alone, and certain people work well under pressure while others crumble at the thought of it. These differences can lead to conflict surfacing.
  5. Background – people in the workplace often have different values, beliefs, and experiences. Workplaces diversity is truly a wonderful thing; however, these differences can lead to conflict due to a lack of understanding of others, pre-conceived judgements, and intolerance of difference.

Dealing with workplace conflict

Managing conflict in the workplace can be daunting and stressful, however addressing it quickly and effectively will stop conflict escalating into a bigger problem. A simpler way of managing conflict includes:

  • Assessing the situation – consider the best approach and person to address the conflict.
  • Set up a meeting – the conflict can be discussed with both parties by organising an informal meeting at an agreed time and place.
  • Communication – during the meeting ensure communication is clear, concise, and delivered calmly. Maintain positive open body language and use active listening skills.
  • Respect – it is important respect is maintained throughout the session by all people involved. Set boundaries and guidelines at the start of the session to help manage expectations.  
  • Collaborate – work with both parties to recognise there is a problem and mutually agree to work towards agreeing upon a plan of action to resolve the issue.
  • Review – it may be appropriate to follow up with both parties at a later time to assess if the issue has been resolved.
  • Formalised sessions – at times disputes may require a more formal approach to conflict resolution. This can be achieved by engaging a professional to conduct a formal mediation session.

Successfully resolving conflict in the workplace is important to maintaining healthy professional relationships between staff, management, and clients. It increases staff productivity, reduces workplace stress, helps maintain staff retention, improves team culture, and increases job and client satisfaction.

Managing workplace conflict doesn’t have to be intimidating, stressful and time consuming and often occurs due to miscommunication. Remember to act swiftly, calmly, with respect, integrity and remain assertive. These actions will help stop the issue from becoming bigger.

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