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How to Deal with Conflict in the Workplace

Updated: Dec 11, 2022

Conflict occurs when one person, group, or party is negatively affected by the actions and interests of another person, group, or party, or simply feels that way.

Conflict is very common in the workplace and sometimes it gets so out of control that it ends in an argument or a fight.

The American workplace is diverse and there can be a variety of reasons that can lead to a conflict of interest between employees. For example, an employee may feel that they are in danger of losing their job or position because a colleague is more assertive or works harder.

Supervisors have a key role to play in resolving workplace conflict. Their proactive approach to creating a positive and enjoyable work environment will result in a highly motivated and engaged workforce that delivers perfect products or services.

Causes of conflict

Conflict causes employees to behave irrationally and is usually associated with emotions such as sadness, fear, bitterness, anger, disappointment and hopelessness.

These emotions can cause an employee to react in a passive-aggressive or aggressive manner, depending on their personality, and eventually withdraw.

According to a survey, the majority of workers reported that they struggle with some form of conflict in the workplace.

The main root causes of conflict cited were personality clashes that can arise from differing values, stress due to a heavy workload, ego wars or other emotions, and being judgmental to alternative problem solving approaches. .

According to Simpao, the causes of conflict in the workplace include poor communication, emotions, values, work structure, and the history of the conflicting parties.

Poor communication is one of the most important causes of conflict, not only in the workplace but also in many social settings, including the family. The parties involved usually misunderstand each other or do not know enough their side of the story because they send confusing messages for a variety of reasons, such as not listening to each other with full attention or simply not waiting until a presentation is over.

Communication in all its forms should be well established and all employees should be continuously trained to follow the company's communication etiquette.

Supervisors are the role models in promoting clear and concise communication in both oral and written forms.

Employees must be encouraged to view differing opinions as an asset to the company, and it is okay to bring a different point of view to the table. Open-mindedness and effective communication are the most compelling strategies for conflict resolution in the workplace.

Managers should encourage employees to contribute innovative ideas to improve overall productivity and the company's products or service offerings.

Unfortunately, in some workplaces with poor supervision, employees' alternative approaches and innovative ideas to problems may sometimes lead to harmful conflict among the team members because people often tend to reject the innovation and unknown and be quick to judge. If you are the team leader or supervisor show your colleagues that you are open to alternative solutions and listen to those bringing original opinions without judgement. Your unbiased approach will help everyone in the team to reach a conflict resolution much effectively.

People have different values, especially in a diverse workplace. Values can become a source of conflict because employees do not value the same things.

This can be overcome with diversity and inclusion programs that help embrace differences and respect the values of others, no matter how different they are and how ridiculous they may seem to others.

Team managers should have the basic knowledge and skills to lead diverse teams and set the tone for inclusion of all. The supervisor's inclusive approach to all employees will be a clear communication of respect that welcomes differences, minimizes conflict, helps resolving conflict quickly when arises and maximizes engagement to achieve perfect results.

Company structure and overuse of resources by certain individuals or groups can lead to conflict among employees.

The chain of command, reporting, interdepartmental relationships, supply chain, distribution, customer relations, and all other parts of the organization should be carefully planned and executed to avoid conflict among employees or groups.

Team leaders should continually receive candid feedback from employees at all levels on the questions such as "What is working best?" and "What needs to be improved?" and remove the obstacles or present them to upper management to implement policies, procedures or systems to promote effectiveness. The organization's resources should be distributed in a balanced manner.

Conflict Management

There are several ways for supervisors to manage conflict in the workplace. Although the above causes of conflict and strategies for resolving conflict are designed to prevent conflict from occurring in the first place, conflict can arise for any reason and at any time in the workplace.

The strategies to help supervisors and HR managers resolve conflict and restore the workplace to its original state by using these approaches;

  • Competition

  • Avoidance

  • Compromise

  • Accommodation

  • Collaboration.

Each strategy is useful in certain situations.

Competition, for example, means that a supervisor uses his or her authority to assert the interests of one party over those of the other. This sometimes seems harsh compared to compromise or collaboration, but may be necessary when one's rights must be defended.

Strategies such as compromise, accommodation, and cooperation should be used in most conflict resolution situations because they force a compromise between the parties or accommodate the interests of the others. By compromising and accommodating, you are trying to find a common ground between the parties.


Functional conflict

Conflicts we have talked about so far can be referred to as dysfunctional conflicts, as they can damage the work environment and lead to employee disengagement at certain levels and in certain forms.

Functional conflict in the workplace, on the other hand, can promote positive outcomes, innovation and creativity, which most companies need to maintain the quality of products and services they offer and stay competitive in the marketplace.

Functional conflict between employees should be encouraged, and supervisors should manage it well to get the best out of employees.

Functional conflicts make employees feel valued. When they contribute to the company by expressing their ideas without fear and shame, their identity and sense of responsibility are strengthened. They become more engaged in their work and loyal to the company.


Conflict is not uncommon in the workplace and occasionally it gets out of control and ends in a fight.

Conflict causes employees to act impulsively and is often accompanied by feelings of despair, fear, bitterness, anger, disappointment, and hopelessness.

Team leaders should have the ability to manage and resolve conflict. Open-mindedness, active listening, and effective communication are usually the best strategies for resolving conflicts quickly.

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