10 Causes of Conflict in the Workplace and how to manage them

10 Causes of Conflict in the Workplace: How to Resolve Them

It may interest you that managers spend almost a quarter of their time dealing with conflicts at work. 

That’s because conflict is a constant reality in the workplace. Yet when managers don’t handle them well, they can have negative effects on an organization’s efficiency.

In a publication about workplace conflict statistics, Gitnux observed that 85 percent of employees experience unavoidable conflicts at work. 

Now, you’d ask, how can you, as a manager, prevent and resolve conflict in your workplace? 

Well, the first step is to understand the 10 causes of conflict in the workplace, which we’ll discuss in this blog post. From communication issues to organizational changes, we’ll cover it all. By knowing these causes, you can take proactive steps to avoid conflicts and create a happier, more productive work environment for all.

10 Causes of Conflict in the Workplace

Many things can give birth to conflict in a business environment. But the top 10 causes of conflicts in the workplace include communication breakdown, workplace culture clashes, and role ambiguity, amongst others. Below is a detailed explanation of each:

#1. Communication breakdown

Of course, misunderstandings and poor communication can cause conflicts at work. For instance, when a colleague at your workplace misinterprets instructions, he may not complete a task as expected. And that can lead to frustration and conflict with his manager or colleagues.

#2. Differences in personalities and working styles

No doubt, it’s natural for people to have different communication and work styles. But, misunderstandings can arise when these differences are not recognized. For example, a team member who prefers a structured approach may clash with a colleague who prefers a more flexible approach.

#3. Workplace culture clashes

Also, the diversity of employees in the workplace can sometimes lead to conflicts. So, it is one of the 10 causes of conflict in the workplace. For instance, an employee from a culture that values punctuality may have conflicts with a colleague from a culture that values flexibility.

#4. Role Ambiguity

Apart from the points listed above, one of the 10 causes of conflict in the workplace is unclear job responsibilities. When employees are unsure about their roles or responsibilities, it can cause confusion and tension. For example, two employees might both believe it’s their job to handle a particular task, resulting in a conflict.

#5. Competition for Resources

Also, competition for resources or privileges such as promotions, bonuses, or recognition is one of the 10 causes of conflict in the workplace. For example, take a scenario where two colleagues are competing for a promotion. You can be sure that there’ll be tension and conflict between them.

#6. Power Struggles

This point is somewhat close to the preceding one. Often accompanied by a higher position is power. So while conflicts can arise in the workplace for various reasons, the power struggle is one of them.

For instance, imagine two colleagues in your company vying for the same promotion. Chances are that these two colleagues of yours won’t be at ease with each other as they begin to see themselves as rivals. And not as team members. 

#7. Change in Management

Also, major changes in a company, like restructuring or mergers, can cause uncertainty and stress among employees. And that often results in conflicts. For instance, if employees fear job losses due to restructuring, they may clash with management over the changes.

#8. Personal Problems

One of the 14 principles of Management, states that company goals should be given priority before personal goals in the workplace. 

But personal problems like stress, health issues, or family conflicts can spill over into the workplace. And that affects relationships with coworkers, resulting in conflicts. For example, an employee dealing with a family issue may become irritable and clash with colleagues over minor issues.

#9. Harassment and discrimination

Another one on the list of the 10 causes of conflict in the workplace is Workplace harassment. Whether it’s based on gender, race, or ethnicity, it is a significant cause of conflict in the workplace. 

And of course, it creates an unhealthy work environment and can lead to tension and disputes among employees. For example, if a female employee experiences gender-based discrimination from a male coworker, it can result in a conflict between them.

#10. Lack of trust

Also, a lack of trust between employees or between employees and management is a common cause of conflict in the workplace. Sadly, the existent suspicion and doubt can breed misunderstandings and resentment. As a result, that can lead to disputes. 

It is one of the 10 causes of conflict in the workplace. For instance, distrust can build up if employees feel that management is not transparent about company decisions.

How can limited resources cause conflict in the workplace?

Limited resources in the workplace can lead to tension, jealousy, and conflict among employees. For example, as cited earlier, when only one promotion is available, several qualified employees may compete (for it). And that can bring about stress and resentment. 

Similarly, a limited budget for bonuses or rewards can make some employees feel undervalued. 

That’s why employers (and managers) must be transparent about resource availability and allocation criteria to avoid conflicts caused by limited resources. 

How to resolve conflict in the workplace as a manager

One task that is somewhat daunting for managers is managing conflicts in the workplace effectively. However, managers can prevent workplace conflict by promoting communication, collaboration, respect, fairness, adaptability, support, inclusivity, etc.

#1. Encourage Open communication 

As a manager, it’s crucial to prevent conflicts in the workplace. And since communication breakdowns are a common cause of misunderstandings and disagreements, you must encourage open communication.

That way, you can clarify expectations, address misunderstandings promptly, provide regular feedback, and leverage technology to streamline communication. By taking all these steps into action, you’ll be amazed at how they can help your team work better together and create a happier work environment.

#2. Instill a collaborative spirit and culture

As a manager, it’s crucial to address differences in personalities and working styles to prevent conflicts in the workplace. And to resolve this issue, you should encourage team members to learn and appreciate each other’s strengths and preferences and establish clear communication channels. 

Also, encourage collaboration and open dialogue, and offer team-building activities to build trust and understanding. 

#3. Inclusive and harmonious work environment

Indeed, managers can take steps to address workplace culture clashes. Interestingly, they can start by establishing a shared understanding of the company’s core values and mission. 

Again, you can’t overemphasize the significance of promoting open communication, respect for different perspectives, and diversity and inclusion initiatives can also help. 

#4. Communicate roles and expectations

All employees need to have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities to avoid conflicts in the workplace. That’s why managers must communicate expectations to their workers, provide them with training and support, and encourage questions from them.

So, as a manager, ensure all your employees have access to the same information, and work towards preventing misunderstandings and confusion. 

#5. Create a culture of fairness and collaboration

Managers can resolve conflicts caused by competition for resources by promoting transparency and fairness in decision-making. In particular, they should establish clear criteria for promotions, bonuses, and recognition. 

Also, managers should provide opportunities for all employees to shine and encourage collaboration and teamwork

#6. Establish standards and lines of authority 

As a manager, to prevent conflicts arising from power struggles, you should promote a collaborative work culture that values open communication and respect for different perspectives. 

Also, you should establish clear lines of authority and decision-making processes. Additionally, offering leadership training and coaching can help employees develop effective leadership skills and work together more effectively.

#7. Promote a culture of adaptability

Of course, when companies undergo significant changes like restructuring or mergers, it can create uncertainty and stress. And that may bring about conflicts. 

But managers can resolve this by communicating openly and transparently with employees about the changes and how they will impact their roles. 

In other words, managers should encourage employee involvement in the change process and provide support and resources to help them adjust. 

Furthermore, they can offer training and coaching to help employees develop new skills to navigate change and reduce conflicts.

#8. Culture of empathy and support

As subtle as this can be when employees are struggling with personal problems, that can lead to conflicts with coworkers. Some of these issues include stress, health issues, family problems, 

So, as a manager, you can create a supportive work environment where employees feel comfortable seeking help when needed. Encourage work-life balance and provide resources like employee assistance programs to help employees address personal issues. 

#9. Frown at Harassment with measures

To create a safer and more welcoming work environment, managers must take a firm stance against harassment and discrimination. They should regularly train employees to promote respect and understanding and encourage employees to report incidents. 

Managers should also handle investigations promptly and confidentially. By promoting a culture of respect and inclusivity, conflicts arising from harassment and discrimination can be prevented.

#10. Cultivate trust and accountability

When there’s a lack of trust, conflicts can arise between colleagues. To resolve these issues, managers can encourage open communication and transparency. They can create opportunities for employees to connect, work together as a team, and respect each other’s opinions. 

By promoting a culture of trust and accountability, managers can help prevent misunderstandings and conflicts; while creating a more positive and collaborative work environment.

Final Thought 

While conflict is inevitable in any workplace, it’s essential to address it head-on and find a resolution. But it often starts by identifying the 10 common causes of conflict in the workplace, after which you can take steps to prevent them. 

Then you’ll be able to create a more positive work environment for yourself and your team. Meanwhile, don’t forget that communication is key to resolving workplace conflicts. So always encourage open and honest dialogue. 

However, remember to approach each situation with empathy and understanding and be willing to compromise and seek common ground. 

In conclusion, by applying these strategies outlined in this blog post into practice, you can build stronger relationships with your colleagues and foster a happier and more productive workplace.

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