Conflicts at Work: Most Common Types


At any company that staffs more than one person, conflicts are inevitable. Some of them take their roots in the organizational structure and leadership style, and others happen when different personality types and work approaches clash. One way or another, a conflict can stimulate the healthy exchange of ideas and creativity. On the other hand, if ignored or handled incorrectly, organizational conflicts may cause staff dissatisfaction, lower productivity, high turnover and other bad consequences for business. Today, we are going to look at the importance of managing conflicts and discuss the 5 major types of conflicts and how they can be resolved.

Whether you are a manager or a staff member, you’ll learn the practices that you’ll be able to instantly use in your current situation in the office. Therefore, if you’re in the middle of conflict with someone, you won’t have to make a CV and look for a new job – things can certainly be improved at your current workplace. We will also discuss some workplace safety tips.

Why conflict management is important?

Conflict resolution is one of the most in-demand skills for the modern employers. Indeed, if ignored or avoided, a conflict tends to escalate and bring to more serious consequences in the long run. Therefore, it is important to identify the conflict, classify it and choose an appropriate method of its resolution.

Oppositely to what many may think, conflicts exist not only in the form of direct confrontation or a silent sabotage. One of the causes of conflict may be a modern wage discrimination when a team member finds out that he/she is underpaid comparing to the colleagues doing the same job. Meanwhile, someone in the other department might get sensitive in response to boss’s criticism of their work and get either aggressive or defensive. Or, let’s imagine the situation when the boss didn’t give you a pay raise they promised and rewarded your colleague instead… again, the number of situations causing conflicts is almost limitless. Here is the number of obvious and surprising reasons why handling conflicts deserves high-priority attention:

●        It eliminates a lion’s share of workplace problems.
If the conflicts are addressed and resolve as soon as they’re arisen, it prevents them from growing into complex problems that will affect the entire organization. Moreover, addressing the conflict promptly highlights the importance of each team member for the company. If the conflicting parties are encouraged to speak up and come to a conclusion which will suit both of them, this inevitably strengthens the relationships in the office. People will feel valued and will strive to contribute to the organization in their possible way. Therefore, a motivation and productivity will increase and people will gain interest in personal development in the workplace rather than rumoring and withstanding intrigues.
Are you a manager? Then, your team is likely to outperform. Are you a professional? Then, you’ll be noticed by management for your conflict resolution skills.

●        It helps maintain healthy work-life balance.
Nobody likes grueling and stressful workplace environment. The worst thing about them is that one cannot feel relieved and relaxed even after work, with their family or in circle of friends. Affected by negative working environment, people will likely to provoke conflicts outside of work. Needless to say that the teamwork suffers due to an impossibility of trusted interactions and the productivity and level of customer service drops since people are too exhausted by the blame game to focus on their responsibilities.
On the contrary, people who can relieve from stress during the time off and are not permanently stressed by bad environment, maintain a healthy life-work balance and contribute more.

●        It fosters creativity and exchange of ideas.
To perform at our best, we all need a positive, supporting environment that encourages a dialogue in any situation at the workplace. Perhaps, it’s the only environment that allows people to speak up freely, suggest the craziest ideas and let their creative juices flowing. When we are cautious about speaking our mind at the threat of confronting someone, this inevitably reduces the efficiency of the brainstorming sessions and any other activities when exchange of ideas and shared work on them is necessary. If there isn’t a tense environment or a fear of possible conflict in the office, better ideas are generated and the business only wins.

●        It helps business stay afloat in the long run.
Again, conflict situations are normal for any business environments. Conflicts between the colleagues, boss and subordinates, and with clients or vendors will happen. It’s the way you treat the conflict that has arisen that matters both for business and your career. Unresolved or ignored conflicts will only escalate, leading to dropping productivity, high turnover, and creation of barriers to cooperation and collaboration. If you’re a manager, inability to handle conflicts puts your leadership abilities under question. If you’re a professional, conflict resolution skills will help you build a successful career in this given organization. Proactive conflict management will positively affect the organization in general and your career as follows.

Tip: most of the conflicts you find yourself engaged in can be managed. However, if your employer has no policy regarding conflict management and you find yourself in a toxic surrounding, it’s sometimes the best decision to quit your job and find the company that offers safe working environment. For that, you’ll need a professionally written resume – and we are ready to provide you with one that will sell your skills best. Find out more about our services and prices.

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Workplace conflicts: 5 main types

The vast majority of workplace conflicts can be divided into 5 major groups. Each type of conflict requires different strategies to handle it as there aren’t ‘one-size-fits-all’ recipes. That’s why it’s so important to distinguish between those types to respond appropriately. So, the most common workplace conflict types include as follows:

The interdependence conflict

At the workplace, no one’s work is isolated. We function as a part of the team, are involved in supervisor/subordinate relationships and interact with other departments and outside vendors. Even when working individually, we inevitably depend on the contribution of others. This nature of work causes the interdependence conflict.

It happens when we rely on someone else’s cooperation, output or input to complete your work. For example, as a marketing specialist, you need to receive the data from the sales team to analyze the success of promotional campaigns and deliver timely reports to management. However, if the sales manager is late with providing data to you, you will struggle compiling your reports on time.

How to resolve the conflicts of this type? First of all, you’ll need to start a conversation with the person slowing down your work to discuss the consequences of their actions on your work. If you’ve never had challenging conversation of this kind, it’s high time that you started. Then, if the person ignores your notes, consider escalating this issue to your supervisor so they could apply fines or reduce the person’s bonuses.

The workplace interdependence allows using delegation to everyone’s advantage. For instance, if you are a team leader, you can delegate the secondary tasks to your subordinates and focus on those requiring your unique expertise. By doing so, you clearly outline areas of responsibility and minimize possible conflicts. Moreover, you’ll have more time to complete the crucial tasks on time and the entire department will succeed in general. The ability to delegate is one of the traits that distinguishes a real leader for reason.

By the way, spying on employees in the workplace can evoke a conflict as well. However, since tracking employees’ actions is the employer’s policy, in most cases you’ll have to put up with this.

The difference in style

Typically, an office is a melting pot of different personality types. Not surprisingly, all these personalities have different styles of work, and different values that drive them. As a result, when forced to work together over a project or task, the different working styles clash leading to personality conflicts afterwards.

What are the examples of difference in working styles? Some people are task-oriented and deadline-driven, and try to complete the task as soon as possible. Someone, on the other hand, is a perfectionist and will redo the comparatively well-done job until it’s perfect, and irritate others by that. Or, you may have a colleague who is people-oriented and involves everyone into a group project so everyone could feel valued, regardless of their qualifications. Some prefer to think aloud and work step by step with their coworkers; others prefer to think it over and present a complete task for others’ review. The arguments over these personality issues can go so far that you may even doubt that this work is the right fit for you.

So, where do you go about it? If you want to resolve the conflicts of this kind, you need to accept the fact that other people’s pace of work is different from yours, start a conversation and come to a consensus. Some companies offer training to navigate you through different working styles – be sure to take one if you have an opportunity.

The difference in background

Our cultural, educational and ethnic background all contribute to our personality. When we work with someone whose background is different from ours, it lays the foundation for the future conflicts. Although the largest tech employers celebrate the diversity and welcome the employees from diverse backgrounds, at smaller companies where the corporate culture isn’t that strong, conflicts caused by differences in background may arise.

For example, a manager might only promote male employees even when the female staff members perform just as well. Or, the two team members might be at daggers drawn simply because they have different views at Trump’s presidency. One way or another, team collaboration will suffer and no synergy effect will be achieved.

If you’re a manager, it will go you a long way if you treat everyone equally regardless of their race, ethnicity, age or gender. By setting an example, you’ll promote productive and tolerant relationships in the department. If you are a professional, when communicating with someone who has obviously different background, try to accentuate the similarities between you rather than the differences. Avoid touchy subjects - check out our guide for the subjects of conversation to avoid with your colleagues:

The difference in leadership style

According to employee surveys, poor leadership is one of the most popular reason for quitting their jobs - and that’s for reason. For example, when the organizational structure assumes that the team has more than one leader, it can be challenging to meet the expectations of all of them, especially if their leadership styles vary. If one of your bosses is democratic and open for any suggestions and the other is dictatorial and demanding, you’ll end up being confused. The same situation happens if different leaders set different priorities and tasks at the same time. Differences in leadership can provoke both vertical and horizontal conflicts in the company.

This type of conflict is likely to continue up until the point when the priority of leadership is set and the consistent principles of management is outlined in the company or department. As an employee, you can escalate this issue backed up by the evidence of how the team productivity suffers due to this inconsistency. If you are a leader, identifying the issue of difference in leadership and resolving it before the staff has become confused can strengthen your authority and improve the team’s efficiency.

The most successful and accomplished leaders are always willing to share their success stories and tips that you can use to improve your own career. Read our compliation of advice from the most prominent female leaders and get inspired:

The difference in personality

Career experts call the personality clashes the most popular and challenging type of conflict. In particular, 85% of dismissals in the US take place because of this type of conflict. Personality conflicts can be mistaken for the above four types, so when identifying the conflict type, you should first consider if the above four factors take place. If not, you’re likely to deal with personality conflict.

The most challenging thing about this type of conflict is that they are fueled by emotions and based on the interpretations rather than facts. Here’s the example: a team leader yells at you for being late with the weekly report. You might think that they are inconsiderate, they don’t value your contribution and such a situation happens just because you didn’t soft-soapen them. What you don’t know is that a team leader was penalized by their supervisor for not meeting the KPIs or simply had had a bad day. Therefore, they would yell at anyone in the room and the reason of conflict has little to do with you.

As our interpretation of the situation starts driving our actions, it’s easy to turn a little misunderstanding or quarrel into a real war. To avoid this, try doing the following:

●        Sift the facts from interpretation. When you got involved in the conflicts, sit and write down the your thoughts and then think of the facts that support them. For instance, “My boss doesn’t value me” is an interpretation, whereas “My boss gave me low rating at the recent performance review” is the fact. You’ll be surprised to find out that not all of your thoughts have such facts to support them.

●        Start a healthy discussion. If the serious conflict has occurred or there was a series of small conflicts, outline the facts and then come up to a person or people involved to start a conversation. If you base the conversation on the facts, not interpretations, people are likely to respond well to it. in most cases, after such a conversation the matter will be settled.

●        Act flawlessly. If the conflict occurs because of your mistakes or underperformance in the workplace, start with fulfilling all your responsibilities perfectly. If you aren’t on a good note with your boss, sometimes it’s enough to change their attitude to you.

Some believe that it's hardly ever possible to have good relationships with your coworkers. However you can read our guide on workplace relationship building and give it a shot:

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Understand the potential of the conflict

Usually, a workplace conflict which isn’t provoked by personality clashes or a toxic coworker shows the areas for growth and can catalyze the positive changes in the organization. If you access the conflict type correctly, start a discussion and offer possible strategies for resolving it to management or your team, this can significantly benefit customer service, organizational culture and relationships in the workplace (check our guide on office etiquette: Hands-on experience with resolving conflicts will increase your value in the labor market and increase your chances for a promotion, too.

However, be realistic when taking attempts to resolve conflicts. In some companies, managers are reluctant to make changes or even analyze the situation which causes ongoing conflicts. Or, the environment isn’t productive and yelling at the coworkers is considered normal. In this case, it’s better to take care of your own mental health, update your old resume and look for new opportunities.  By the way, our writers can assist even with difficult career issues and present your best qualities to the potential employer.

Conflict resolution in the office: practical tips

As we’ve mentioned above, conflict situation in the workplace can be caused by the vast array of situations. For instance, there might be the colleagues who have opposite views on the working process or the way the task should be completed, competition for the upcoming promotion, dissatisfaction with the compensation level, and many more. Personal issues such as jealousy, someone liking/disliking their coworkers or manager, romantic tensions (by the way, read how to handle workplace romance in a way that wouldn’t damage your career: can escalate the existing conflict, too.

Above we’ve considered the main types of workplace conflicts and the ways you should approach them. If you want to handle conflicts effectively, you’ll also need some hands-on advice and practical tips. Here’s what will help you in case of conflict:

·         Resolve the conflict quickly – ideally, you should attack the conflict at its roots. Here’s the thing:  workplace conflicts tend to escalate quite fast and affect the employees who were uninvolved at the beginning. This rule is even more significant if you’re a manager. It’s much cost-effective and easier to resolve the disagreement between the two staff members than to wait until the rest of the team gets involved and the morale and performance will decrease. So, if you notice that conflict arises, respond to it immediately.

·         Foster the feedback culture – this rule is essential for leaders as well. To gain more opportunities for conflict resolution and to minimize them, constantly ask for feedback from your team. If you foster openness and are willing not to judge others based on your personal bias,  people will feel comfortable sharing their discontent and negative workplace situations. In its turn, you’ll be able to resolve conflicts at their very beginning or even prevent them.
If you’re an employee, be sure to give feedback based on facts, not your interpretations (as we’ve discussed above).
Asking for feedback in a professional world is always helpful. For example, if you are curious how to act after the interview, keep in mind that asking for feedback will help you perform better at the next interview.

·         Control your emotions – both when you are involved in the conflict and when you are arbitrating it, it’s primarily important that you take control over your emotions. As you are carried away by the anger or your ego was touched, it’s easy to speak or act in a way which may harm a lot to your professional relationships and your career. Try to get distracted from your emotions and operate the facts to find the way to resolving a misunderstanding. If you are the third side, you need to stay calm and appeal to the logics and facts as well.

·         Understand the motivation of others – sometimes workplace conflicts seem totally irrational. However, it mostly happens because you don’t understand what drives the other person when they confront their coworker. Basically, the conflicts occur when the person cannot realize their ambitions, reach their goal or to get something they’re after. To resolve the conflict completely, you need to understand others motivation prior to weighing in. For example, someone might sabotage the colleague’s work because they believe that the colleague is given more important and challenging tasks. Therefore, if you address the cause of this conflict, you won’t have to resolve the ongoing arguments between the two.

·         Outline the acceptable norms – in case when the appropriate norms of behavior aren’t defined, it’s hard to argue what is right and what is wrong about someone’s behavior. If you’re a manager, take the initiative in suggesting these norms and making them official for the company. Suggest the universal practices for team collaboration, promotion and raise, etiquette rules, leadership behavior and rules of communication. When these norms are accepted at the executive level, people will know what to orient at and the number of conflicts will reduce. If you are a team member and see that conflicts occur due to misunderstanding, you should up with your suggestions as well.
Taking the initiative at work pays off, but only if you do it right. Lean the best practices of using your workplace initiative here:

·         Be an effective communicator – problems with communication often cause conflicts at all levels. Poor communication, lack of communication or misinformation, especially from those whose input your work depends on irritates and eventually reduces your own productivity. For instance, if you don’t receive a letter with the data you need for weekly report or don’t get a message about the organizational change it will affect your own performance and may cause a conflict with your subordinates or supervisor.
Therefore, if you are a leader, set up the communication rules and practices for your team and be sure to inform everyone on time, providing full information your team needs. If you are a team member, communicate timely and concisely to avoid the distortion of the message.

·         See the potential for growth in any conflict – of course, when the two marketers in your team argue about their baseball teams, there isn’t much connection with the future of the company or your department. However, if the conflicts between the support team and clients occur on a regular basis, this may be a sign that not only those conflicts should be resolved, but also their cause should be addressed. For example, the support team might need an additional training which will eventually reflect in customer satisfaction and sales figures. Or, the policies of communication with the clients might need to be updated. Look for possible options, and addressing such a conflict might have a positive effect on the business.

The bottom line

Conflicts at the workplace are caused by working conditions, organizational structure and personality clashes. Addressing these conflicts in a timely fashion, in its turn, will help resolve them, increase productivity and help the organization prosper. With the knowledge of most common conflict types and understanding of strategies and practices of their resolution, you’ll feel more comfortable while handling your next office conflict. If you’re a leader, this will definitely strengthen your authority and influence on the team. If you’re a professional, this will showcase your soft skills and dedication to the team success, which will increase your chances to be considered for a promotion.

Conflict resolution skills are highly valued by the employers in all industries. The ability to resolve the conflicts shows that you’re an active listener, are proactive in resolving the organizational challenges, and are focused on compromises and collaboration. Of course, this should be mentioned in your resume when you update it to apply for your next job. Our expert resume writers are willing to help you with polishing your resume until perfection.

With 9+ years of resume writing expertise, we can assist you with writing a resume, cover letter and completing effective LinkedIn profile at an affordable charge. We use individual approach when working with our clients and will prepare a unique resume based on your career history and with your professional ambitions in mind. We offer contact with your writer and extensive expertise with writing resumes for all career level to create a resume that will meet and exceed your expectations. Urgent delivery is also available – you can get your application documents done in as soon as 24 hours.

Have you been involved in workplace conflict or have you arbitrated it? Which conflict resolution tactics did you use?

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