People having conflict with each other in the workplace
Photo by Yan Krukau

In our lives, we interact with people every day. While some conversations go smoothly, others get converted into disputes, heated discussions, arguments, clashes, or biases, collectively referred to as “conflicts.” When conflicts happen in our personal lives, we know how to resolve or get around them. But it gets trickier to handle different types of conflict in the workplace. What to do if your productivity is affected by your colleague’s behavior? You can’t go and simply tell your boss that they are biased!

Conflicts hamper both individual and team growth and disturb overall company harmony. It creates a hostile and uncomfortable office environment. But everything has a bright side if we set the right focus. Conflicts can also be healthy. They promote competition, push us to learn more, connect better, and improve our leadership skills.

What types of conflict arise in the workplace?

We work in teams spread across continents. Everyone has a personality, cultural background, working style, and viewpoints that might differ.

The way we process and express information lead to conflicts.

There is nothing to be afraid of. Conflicts are natural and bound to happen because no two individuals are the same, so there will be differences when they work together. 

Let’s look at five common types of workplace conflict:

#1. Different personalities

We all have different personalities. Our likes, dislikes, and opinions will not necessarily match with everyone. We might like some people, and we will have differences with others with or without any work involvement. That’s very common and very difficult to resolve. 

For example, 

  • We might not like a team member from the beginning, which will cause collaborative work difficulty. 
  • If a team member does not engage at a personal level the way all others in the team do, we label that person as rude or snobby, which affects our connection with that person and overall team bonding.

Learning to be more open-minded and open to new perspectives can help resolve these types of issues big time.

#2. Style-based conflicts

Some employees make progress at a rapid pace, while others take some time to think before jumping to solutions. One person focuses on details. Another one may quickly come to the point. These people are different and may find challenges when working together.

Mutual respect is the key to avoiding such issues because, in the end, collective opinions and collaborations matter if you are part of a group or team.

#2.1. Leadership style issues

Leadership issues happen when the team is unhappy with the leader or their working methods. 

For example, 

  • Some leaders are direct and prefer to avoid going into details. Some leaders have a habit of micromanagement.
  • Leadership changes confuse team members about their roles and existence.
  • When a new team leader joins from outside the team when people are competing within the team for that promotion.

All these situations lead to rebellion in the team. A good leader can sense the problem and resolve the differences promptly. 

#3. Interdependent task-based conflicts

These disagreements are prevalent and frustrating when working under cross-functional processes in your company. Entire departments get involved with either blame games or putting up a defense. Such conflicts take a lot of mental exertion. 

For example,

  • You are late in your task because you didn’t get the numbers from the accounts team.
  • HR person forgets to inform you about the joining date of a new team member, and you are not prepared when the new person arrives.

Proper communication and effective work delegation are critical to resolving such workplace conflicts. 

#4. Cultural differences

We all come from different cultural backgrounds with different beliefs. There are differences in age, gender, values, ethnicity, socioeconomic backgrounds, and even approaches to humor.

For example,

  • When people from the same region start talking in their native language outside of core work discussions, other team members find it too difficult to mix with them. It also creates sub-groups within a team.
  • Some people speak very softly, do not address their boss by name directly, and do not make eye contact because it’s part of their culture. Other people who are different may find it distant or offensive.

Being more accepting of other cultures and not judging people based on their region’s stereotypes are some ways to avoid cultural clashes.

#5. Relationship-based issues

These conflicts are very common and most challenging to identify or reproduce. Their repercussions are also very harsh. When personal feelings get involved in work, everything becomes complicated.

For example, 

  • If you are friends with someone outside work, you will naturally stand for your friend in any workplace situation, even when the person is at fault. It not only affects your reputation but also stops your friend’s growth.

You avoid such issues by keeping personal lives and feelings separate from work.

How to spot conflict signs?

Like every problem, there are warning signs to watch out for before things go out of hand.

  1. Body language change is the first thing you should observe for any arising conflict. Most people aren’t aware of this, but this is an honest way to identify. People avoid eye contact, frown at the mention of the possible conflict situation or persona name, etc.
  2. Groups within the teams are a sign of conflict between people.
  3. An increase in complaints shows dissatisfaction with other employees or work.
  4. Behavioral changes, such as awkwardness or changes in usual interactions, suggest something fishy. For example, someone starts to stay quiet in a conversation though it is out of their typical character.
  5. Productivity decreases in an employee’s performance or the entire team’s performance.
  6. Unproductive meetings – Do staff meetings end up being gripe sessions instead of brainstorming sessions? Are there people who are only trying to discard all ideas or not participating at all?

Tips for resolving conflicts

When you notice such signs of conflict, taking immediate and appropriate actions becomes essential. If you are the:

  1. Boss/Lead/Manager – set up meetings with concerned people. Listen to what they say with an open mind and patience. You can also talk to your trusted person to get to the root cause of the problem from a neutral point of view.
  2. Employee but not involved in the conflict with other people– report to your manager about your basic observation (if you cannot reveal all the details) of any arising conflict or dissatisfaction in the team.
  3. Employee and involved in the conflict with other people – talk directly to the people with whom you have an issue. Sit calmly, try to explain your point, and listen to their story. See if you can agree to disagree and end the situation instead of continuing the conflict.
  4. Employee and your conflicts are about work– schedule a meeting with your boss and make him aware of your goals and aspirations and what is missing in the current environment. Ask for support.
  5. Employee and your conflicts are with your boss/leader – talk to the concerned person in a one-on-one meeting. Explain where things are going wrong. If you notice any changes, fine; if not, you can seek HR help. 

Poorly handled conflicts rob individuals and organizations of precious resources such as time, people, energy, productivity, and overall harmony. A study found that 85% of employees have experienced one or the other types of workplace conflict at some level. That means it is impossible to avoid disputes. Through proper knowledge and experience in resolving conflicts, we can help anticipate and handle a few situations before they worsen. 

Hopefully, these insights might help you avoid tension in the workplace. In our next article, we will explore detailed strategies for conflict resolution. Stay tuned!

Surbhi Mahnot

Surbhi Mahnot

Surbhi Mahnot is the owner of this blog. She has work experience of almost 10 years in the IT industry in varied roles. At present, she is working full-time on this blog. She is passionate about the importance of personal growth in individual and work life, which reflects in her writing too. Travelling, reading, and shopping are her core interest besides work.