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10 Common Examples of Workplace Conflicts (And Solutions)

10 Common Examples of Workplace Conflicts (And Solutions)

The presence of conflict in the workplace isn't necessarily a bad thing. It can be tempting to try and avoid conflict to keep the office atmosphere rosy and positive, but the truth is that both personal and professional growth is waiting on the other side of a resolved conflict.

Conflict in the workplace is, ultimately, inevitable. Bringing people together to achieve goals and complete tasks can make your team accomplish incredible things that an individual could never do alone. At the same time, each individual has their own unique personality, work preferences, and cultural background, which can lead to tension and disagreement.

Though it's always essential to examine each conflict to determine the right course of action to find a resolution, many stem from a core group of common workplace conflicts.

In this article, we'll take a look at ten of the most prominent types of conflict in the office and what you can do to solve them.

Recommended Training
Conflict Strategies Inventory
  • Discover preferred conflict strategies
  • Effectively mitigate conflict
  • Self-assessment and workshop
Learn more

Common Workplace Conflict Examples

When it becomes clear there's a conflict in the office, resist the urge to sweep it under the rug. Unaddressed conflicts tend to get larger over time while addressing a conflict head-on can provide the whole team an opportunity for growth and development.

1. Personality Conflict

One common type of conflict among teams occurs due to personality differences. While it can be a significant benefit to your team and organization for individuals to have unique personalities, this can also lead to clashes occasionally.

When people have differing opinions about topics – whether work-related or not – it can lead to disputes and tension.

A Personality Conflict

Solution: One way you can deal with personality conflicts on your team is to utilize team-building activities that help your team members build relationships with one another. In many cases, getting to know each other better can help people work to overcome differences in opinion and gain a greater understanding of their coworkers' work styles and preferences.

2. Working Preference Conflict

You might also find that conflicts arise between team members when there are differences in their work preferences. For example, one individual might prefer to work with other people and be in communication constantly throughout a project. Another, on the other hand, might prefer to work alone and feel distracted by frequent messages and check-ins.

Work preferences go beyond just collaborative vs. independent work, though. Some individuals prefer to take frequent, short breaks, while others want to focus on the task at hand for more extended periods before taking fewer, more extensive breaks.

When your team is tasked with working together to achieve something collaboratively, this can lead to numerous challenges.

A Working Preference Conflict

Solution: If you are facing a working preference conflict, there are several steps you can take to help remedy the situation.

One thing you can do is to encourage your employees to become more self-aware about their work style preferences. Learning more about how they like to work also allows them to learn more about how others might have other preferences and styles. That can help to promote empathy in a way that can mitigate conflict.

Beyond that, open communication is essential in this type of situation. Providing the opportunity for your team members to discuss their work style preferences during team meetings can help everyone find some common ground.

3. Leadership Conflict

Workplace conflicts don't just arise among team members– they can also crop up between teams and their leaders. There are many different leadership styles, and leaders often have their own unique communication preferences and styles of leadership.

A Leadership Conflict

Solution: If you find yourself in a situation where your team is in conflict with you as a leader, you can step back and work to identify your leadership style. By learning more about your preferences and style as a leader, you can start to forge a path to solve the conflict and avoid similar problems in the future.

Though leadership styles have been historically understood as rather fixed, the truth is that we can have several leadership styles up our sleeves to use when the situation calls for them. Being flexible when it comes to your leadership style allows you to consciously determine which style is most appropriate for each circumstance.

4. Conflict Instigated by Work-Life Balance Problems

Another common cause of workplace conflict arises from work-life balance issues. Employees can start to get stressed and burnt out when they struggle to manage their responsibilities in both their personal and professional lives.

An Employee Struggling With Burnout

Solution: Companies and organizations around the globe are increasingly aware of how important it is to promote work-life balance in the workplace. You might launch initiatives that promote work-life balance, such as offering remote work options or flexible work hours. Even if you don't go that far, you can still encourage your employees to take breaks and practice self-care, stressing the importance of actually using vacation days.

5. Interdependence Conflict

When two or more people are working together and, in fact, rely on each other to reach a goal, there's a lot of potential room for conflict. Though having several people come together to complete a task is essential to successful teamwork, it can cause some bumps in the road if there are disagreements or one person falls behind on their responsibilities.

An Interdependence Conflict

Solution: One thing you can do to try and overcome an interdependence conflict is to foster open communication channels within your team. Encourage everyone working on a group task to frequently send status reports and updates so bottlenecks can be spotted early in the process. Beyond that, you can create contingency plans that you can utilize if delays occur and reduce the impact of these setbacks.

6. Lack of Recognition

It also isn't uncommon for employees to become frustrated when they feel they aren't appreciated or valued. A conflict of this type might emerge in the form of a team member openly discussing that they aren't receiving the recognition they deserve, but it more likely will show up disguised as another type of conflict.

For example, let's say an employee feels frustrated that his coworker appears to be receiving more pats on the back than he is. He feels he's doing just as good of a job, if not better, than his coworker.

The employee might not have a great way of expressing his frustration, which can mean it comes out in other ways. For example, they might start withdrawing during meetings and even start openly criticizing the work of their more – recognized colleague. That can lead to a conflict that might seem to stem from a personality conflict or another common workplace conflict type, but at the core, it comes from feeling unrecognized by the organization.

Lack of Recognition in the Workplace

Solution: Implementing a recognition program for your employees can be a great way to ensure everyone feels they are receiving the affirmation and recognition they deserve. When setting up a system like this, it's essential to make sure you're focusing on measurable metrics and dolling out rewards fairly and transparently. Otherwise, a program like this can end up backfiring.

7. Competitive Behavior

A healthy dose of competition can be a great thing in the workplace. When the spirit of competition is present in your workplace in a fair and positive way, it can help boost morale, improve performance, increase creativity and innovation, boost productivity, and much more.

On the other end of the scale, though, unhealthy competition can wreak havoc on a team or organization. It can erode trust, decrease collaboration, undermine relationships, reduce creativity and innovation, and lead to stress and burnout.

When employees feel the need to be competitive to the point where it's detrimental to themselves and their team, it can lead to conflict. You'll find that attempts at teamwork and collaboration are much less successful when the office has a cut-throat mentality.

Overly Competitive Workplace Behavior

Solution: If the atmosphere of your workplace has become intense and unhealthy, it's time to step back and focus on team achievements rather than individual successes. You can take steps to encourage a culture of collaboration and create incentive systems that reward teamwork.

8. Cultural Differences

When individuals come from different cultural backgrounds, have different life experiences and beliefs, and have different communication styles, it can sometimes lead to conflict in the workplace. Though having a team that is made up of a diverse group can help boost innovation, improve problem-solving, and provide enhanced decision-making potential, it can also present some challenges.

Having a team from diverse cultural backgrounds can potentially cause issues relating to communication style, work-life balance, ethical differences, and language barriers, to name a few. Cultural norms can even impact the way that individuals approach resolving conflicts.

A Team Facing a Conflict

Solution: If your team is dealing with conflict that arises from cultural differences, take some time to promote cross-cultural understanding. Doing so can reduce the occurrence of conflict and misunderstanding while also helping to build empathy. Courses like our Cultural Competency course can help individuals become aware of their own cultural adaptability while also being more adept at dealing with cultural change.

9. Imbalanced Workload

If team members perceive an uneven distribution of work, it can lead to dissatisfaction, resentment, and conflict. This could be the case if a team member feels they are given more or less responsibilities than their coworkers.

Employee Overloaded With Work

Solution: Make sure you stay on top of individual workloads and review them regularly. It's also essential to make sure that you're using the capabilities and skills of your employees to determine who should be given each task. Beyond that, make a point to your team that they should feel comfortable coming forward if they feel they are being underutilized or completely overwhelmed.

10. Micromanagement

When a manager doesn't give their employees enough room to breathe, it can lead to conflicts in the workplace. Team members can feel disempowered and suffocated when they feel their manager is always looking over their shoulder and nitpicking their work.

Employees Being Micromanaged

Solution: If it seems that conflicts arising from micromanagement are a frequent problem in your organization, it might be time to step back and engage in management training. You can use this opportunity to encourage managers to offer autonomy, set clear expectations, and develop trust in their employees. This is also an excellent opportunity to focus on training your management team, so they have the delegation and leadership skills to help them move beyond micromanagement.

Understanding the Negative Effects of Workplace Conflict

When workplace conflict is allowed to fester and flourish in the office, it can lead to many highly negative consequences.

An Employee Struggling With Low Morale

This doesn't just take a toll on the individuals involved in the specific situation but also on the team and the organization as a whole.

  • Reduced Productivity: When there's a conflict in the office, it can lead to a lack of motivation, decreased focus, and distractions. Whether or not individuals are personally involved in the conflict, the entire endeavor can mean an entire team is less productive.
  • Increased Absenteeism: Employees are much more likely to take time off or sick days when there is a lot of conflict in the workplace. That isn't just a problem from a productivity standpoint; it can also take a significant toll on morale.
  • Decreased Morale: Speaking of morale, conflict at work can make going to work (remotely or in person) much less appealing. That can mean that job satisfaction goes down and, ultimately, turnover rates are higher.
  • Increased Anxiety and Stress: When your team is dealing with a conflict, there's a good chance they're dealing with stress and anxiety around the whole situation. This can significantly impact their well-being and even lead to burnout.
  • Less Creativity and Innovation: When there's tension and stress in the workplace, people aren't going to be thinking creatively or coming up with great, new, innovative ideas. For creativity to flourish, there needs to be a sense of psychological security.
  • Diminished Customer Satisfaction: Conflict in the workplace can end up trickling down and impacting your customers. That can mean customer satisfaction and loyalty decrease as your employees can't provide the same level of customer service.

Conflict Management in the Workplace

Anytime there's a conflict in the workplace, there are a number of different vital elements at play. One of the most effective things we can do to improve our conflict management strategies is to gain a deeper understanding of our own reaction to conflict, improve our skills in understanding the most effective tactics, and take the time to practice resolving problems.

Effectively Resolving a Workplace Conflict

To improve your team's ability to handle conflict in the workplace, take a look at our Conflict Strategies Inventory. This training tool is based on more than 35 years of research and explores five different strategies for overcoming workplace conflict.

Do you have any questions about workplace conflicts, solutions to conflicts, our Conflict Strategies Inventory, or anything else we discussed in this article? If so, please feel free to let us know in the comments section, down below! We always do our best to reply to every comment we receive, and we'd be more than happy to assist you however we can.

Recommended Training
Conflict Strategies Inventory
  • Discover preferred conflict strategies
  • Effectively mitigate conflict
  • Self-assessment and workshop
Learn more
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About our author

Bradford R. Glaser

Brad is President and CEO of HRDQ, a publisher of soft-skills learning solutions, and HRDQ-U, an online community for learning professionals hosting webinars, workshops, and podcasts. His 35+ years of experience in adult learning and development have fostered his passion for improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals.