Workplace conflict examples (And how to deal with them)

Updated 13 April 2023

In most workplaces, conflicts and disputes can happen between employees from time to time. When that happens, it's essential to address the underlying issues as soon as possible and resolve the conflict to everyone's satisfaction. It's important to do this in a timely manner, as tensions can linger, resulting in an unhappy workplace, poor morale and a drop in productivity. In this article, we examine different examples of workplace conflicts and provide strategies for dealing with them when they arise.

Workplace conflict examples

There are numerous workplace conflict examples to consider. A workplace conflict is essentially a conflict between two or more individuals in a work environment, such as an office or production facility. Some workplace conflicts are easy to identify, such as when one person reacts in apparent anger to another's suggestion or opinion. Other conflicts are less visible, such as when an employee excludes another from email communication or social gatherings.

As an individual, you may find yourself embroiled in a conflict with a colleague or team member. If you are a manager or leader, it might be required of you to step in and mediate between employees involved in a dispute. Knowing how to defuse the situation and come to an agreement that solves the problem and satisfies all parties is a skill you can learn. Below are some common examples of workplace conflict and how they arise.


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Discriminatory behaviour can lead to workplace conflict. A person may feel discriminated against for various reasons, including their disability, gender, race, age, sexual orientation and religion. Many workplaces have anti-discrimination policies in place, so doing research and being aware of them keeps you up to date with the company culture. As a manager, you are required to demonstrate that you take accusations of discrimination seriously, that it's safe for people to raise these issues and that you don't tolerate discriminatory behaviour. If it's not handled correctly, an accusation of discrimination can lead to legal action and other serious consequences.

Related: How to improve workplace diversity and equality (With steps)

Bullying and harassment

Bullying and harassment are common sources of workplace conflict. These behaviours manifest in different ways. For example, a dominant personality might continually interrupt a quieter person, blocking their participation in meetings or brainstorming sessions. Alternatively, someone might send inappropriate emails to a colleague or use verbally aggressive language when interacting with them. As with discrimination, taking allegations of bullying and harassment seriously and investigating them thoroughly are part of a manager's tasks.

Related: A guide to improving leadership skills (With examples)

Poor communication

Workplace conflict can also arise from poor communication. For example, if managers provide vague instructions, it may lead to team members taking contradictory approaches, duplicating their efforts or omitting vital steps or tasks. This makes it difficult for people to work together productively and harmoniously. At work, attention is required to our choice of words. Try to use precise language and adopt a professional tone. If you speak in a casual or careless way, some people may misinterpret your words or feel insulted by them. Remember that not everyone shares our sense of humour.

Related: Communications skills you need to succeed

Personality clashes

Personality clashes between different individuals can result in workplace conflicts. At work, you're likely to interact with people from diverse backgrounds who have different dispositions and who hold a variety of opinions and beliefs. To work smoothly with your colleagues, remember to respect their points of view, even if they're different to your own. Keep in mind that different perspectives can lead to new ways of thinking and innovative solutions. To avoid personality clashes, get to know your colleagues, build connections with them and always treat them with respect.

Work style clashes

People work in different ways and accomplish tasks through differing methods. For example, some people like to work on their own, while others prefer working collaboratively in groups or teams. Some individuals are detail-oriented and take a cautious approach, while others tend to tackle problems head-on and make quick decisions. These different ways of working can result in frustration, stress and disharmony, as it's sometimes difficult to integrate them together. Adapt your own work style so you can work well with others. Workplaces that support different work styles and recognise everyone's unique contribution are often the most successful.

Tensions between departments

Inter-departmental tensions can also result in workplace conflict. These can arise for a variety of reasons. For example, if two departments are working towards opposing goals, it's likely to result in stress and strain. Similarly, if a manager withholds key information from one department while keeping others up-to-date on developments, the members of that department might feel that management is unhappy with them or excluding them. This could result in resentment and hostility. To avoid clashes of this kind, communicate with all departments equally, encourage collaboration between departments and align inter-departmental goals.

Related: Stress at the workplace (With strategies for managing it)

Strategies for dealing with workplace conflict

If you are a manager, it's important to know how to deal with workplace conflicts and resolve them successfully. You can use these strategies to help you resolve conflicts between members of your team:

Clarify your expectations in advance

Before any conflict breaks out, clarify what you expect from your team. Provide individual and team goals, so everyone knows what objectives they are working towards and what tasks they are responsible for. Ensure everyone is clear about the kind of behaviour that is acceptable on your team and be sure to model that behaviour yourself. For example, if you state you value honesty, be open in your communications and offer constructive feedback as necessary. Remember to familiarise your team members with your company's anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies and other relevant guidelines.

Address the conflict immediately

Don't ignore a conflict or let negative feelings simmer beneath the surface for a period of time. Even if you think that the conflict might resolve itself naturally, it could recur if you don't address the underlying issues in a systematic way. When you notice a conflict between team members, intervening at the earliest opportunity can help to prevent the issue from escalating and minimise the negative impact on productivity and morale.

Discuss the issue

Meet with each person involved in the conflict individually. Ask them to tell you their side of the story and provide you with details. Take note of dates, times and other key pieces of information. Assure them that you take the complaint seriously. After meeting with everyone individually, bring the parties together in a calm, private and safe environment. Ask each person to explain the issue from their point of view. Allow everyone equal time to speak and ensure no one interrupts, monopolises the session or blames or attacks the other person. Maintain a respectful atmosphere.

Related: How to listen and respond to others effectively in 10 steps

Listen actively

Use your active-listening skills to listen carefully to what each person tells you. Focus on them completely. Avoid adding your own suggestions or solutions and allow them to tell their version of events. Don't assume that the person making the allegation is correct or that the other person is wrong. Your goal is to appear impartial, but empathetic. Ask questions, if necessary, to clarify the details surrounding the conflict. When each person finishes speaking, repeat back what they told you to ensure you understood their words correctly.

Related: Active listening skills for communication in the workplace

Establish points of agreement

Encourage all parties engaged in the conflict to identify areas they agree upon. To facilitate this, encourage them to look for common goals or shared interests. For example, it's usually in everyone's interest for a project to succeed or for a department to operate efficiently. Ask each person to let the other person know when they agree with them, to highlight opportunities for agreement.

Find a solution

As you talk the conflict through, create a list of any possible solutions that emerge. Discuss the various options as a group and try to find a solution that benefits everybody. Sometimes, it may be necessary for all parties to compromise to reach an acceptable solution. In other cases, one party to the dispute might be willing to give exactly what the other person asks for to resolve the situation. Ideally, the solution results in a win-win situation for all concerned.

Avoid assigning blame

As the person mediating the conflict, it's important not to directly blame any of the participants for their actions. When people understand the impact of their actions, they may wish to apologise for their behaviour at the end of the meeting. In such cases, allow them to apologise and encourage the other person to accept the apology graciously.

Related: What does an arbitrator do? (With skills and salary)

Escalate the conflict if necessary

It might not be possible for managers to resolve every conflict that breaks out among their team members. If you can't steer the conflicted parties towards a solution, consider escalating the conflict to your HR department or seek advice from a professional mediator or conflict resolution expert. If you're dealing with an allegation of discrimination that could have legal consequences for the organisation and the individuals involved, this is probably an unavoidable course of action. Similarly, if an employee threatens to resign or if the conflict seriously impacts productivity, don't hesitate to escalate the issue.

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