Conflict at Work Examples and the Best Ways to Handle Them

Workplace conflict is something that every manager or business owner has to deal with at one point or another. Team members may have different personalities, working styles, ambitions, or two paths to the same goal, but all of these scenarios may lead to disagreements from time to time.

Nevertheless, conflict can provide positive change for the entire organization—especially when managers can identify and resolve conflict in a satisfactory, productive, and professional manner. Use these conflict at work examples to help you recognize the onset of conflict and how you can find the ideal solution to minimize negative impacts at your company.

Conflict at Work Examples and How To Resolve Them

Fist bump

Conflict in the workplace manifests itself in a variety of ways, and the causes are just as varied. However, some are more common than others and may have enduring consequences if not resolved quickly and properly. While causes of conflict can be rooted in something as simple as different points of view, others have deeply complex psychological origins—but don’t let that frighten you. It’s how you handle them that can lead to a long-term solution.

Whether you’re new to management or you just want to better yourself, here are some of the most common workplace conflicts.

1. Toxic Company Culture or Work Environment

According to a June 2022 Forbes report, toxic work culture is the number one reason that employees resign from a company. Add in the high costs of hiring, onboarding, and training a new employee, and amending a toxic work environment should be number one on your priority list.

The reason that toxic work culture can lead to conflict situations is that it ostracizes certain team members. When one feels ostracized, this can lead to fear, lower morale, and eventually, conflict with other team members or management.

Some of the surefire signs of a toxic company culture include:

  • Prioritizing policy over people
  • Fear of management or leadership and/or the fear of reprisal for speaking up
  • Low morale among employees
  • Middle management that holds no real power or doesn’t understand the job duties of subordinates
  • Discussion of political, economic, ethical, and controversial topics
  • Cliques
  • Perceived laziness or lack of accountability from certain individuals, often due to favoritism or tenure
  • Lack of work-life balance
  • Unresponsive or apathetic human resources department

How To Resolve It

Changing an entire workplace culture is no easy task, but it is possible with a commitment to inclusivity and adaptation.

Start by identifying the source of the issue. If the problem is with laziness, hold employees accountable for tardiness or poor work performance. If people are discussing controversial topics, ban such conversations from the workplace or digital office.

Moreover, practice self-awareness in your own right. If you can avoid controversial topics, have an open-door policy with employees, get rid of favoritism, and favor the morale and well-being of employees over policy, you’re taking a huge step in the right direction.

It will certainly take time to change the culture, but the more you take an active role in the process, the more your employees will follow suit—building mutual respect and teamwork along the way.

2. Miscommunication or Poor Communication

Team arguing with each other at a meeting

Poor communication or miscommunication is perhaps the most common of all conflict at work examples. Some classic examples of this might include:

  • Lack of clarity in correspondence
  • Failure to follow up or check in
  • Taking comments out of context
  • Ambiguity in emails, comments, texts, or direct messages

While in-office communication can come from a lack of understanding nonverbal cues or body language, remote and hybrid communication can breakdown simply from its asynchronous methods.

Asynchronous communication is often the source of conflict simply because people work different hours or in different time zones and can’t immediately respond to emails or messages. It has its advantages in distributed teams, but it needs proper management to work effectively.

How To Resolve It

Work on your communication skills—plain and simple. Active listening is perhaps the best solution to miscommunication, as you take an active role in conversation, ask the right questions, and pick up on body language and nonverbal communication.

To avoid potential conflict, you should consistently write clear, concise messages, encourage questions, and always ask for feedback during your follow-up.

3. Maladaptive Leadership Styles

One of the most integral parts of your business is to establish more than just managers or followers—you want leaders that can guide your staff and lead them to their greatest potential.

However, leadership has changed over time and many managers will swear that their style works—even if it doesn’t. As a result, employee morale and performance can suffer immensely. A laissez-faire manager might feel as though they’re buddies with employees while the micromanager can create resentment among the team.

It’s not that a particular leadership style is wrong; it’s the lack of willingness to adapt or change based on the situation that can lead to leadership conflict between employees and management or even between employees themselves.

How To Resolve It

Situational and supportive leadership are essential tools that ever manager or business owner should possess. Situational leadership involves changing your approach to leadership during different scenarios such as a recession or an important client.

Supportive leadership—which has become one of the most embraced leadership styles in the modern workplace—is another option. This type of leadership provides employees with all the resources they need to complete a task while coaching them along the way. The key here is trust. By providing the tools necessary for success, you can have a hands-off approach, which can extinguish the urge to micromanage or overextend your management duties.

Obviously, you can have a dynamic approach to leadership and adapt as necessary, but these leadership styles tend to better work relationships, improve employee retention, and enhance workflow. It can even have a trickle-down effect from upper management and build a culture of effective leadership on every level of the company.

4. Poor Scheduling or Overwhelming Workloads

Stressed out and overworked employee in front of computer with post-it notes

Money and resources can be tight within any company. It’s all a part of increasing your bottom line during times of economic uncertainty. But another conflict at work example comes when a lack of resources or funds leads to overwhelming workloads, scarcity or resources, or poor scheduling habits.

When management forces employees to shoulder unrealistic workloads or poor scheduling, resentment and conflict brood and boil over. Instead of working toward a common goal, employees feel like they’re barely keeping their head above water.

Add in a lack of proper support or resources and more tasks than listed in the job description, and employee turnover tends to heighten.

How To Resolve It

Emotional intelligence is one of the keys to fairness in terms of workload and schedule. As a leader or manager, you shouldn’t expect people to handle more work than you would do yourself. With emotional intelligence, you can empathize with your employees while also motivating them to complete a reasonable amount of workload.

Remember that your employees are people as well. They require work-life balance and the ability to live a life outside of work. Keep the lanes of communication open and encourage workers to discuss any scheduling or workload issues as soon as possible to avoid conflict.

5. Personality Clashes and Work Style Conflicts

Many different types of conflict exist in the workplace, but one of harder ones to identify is personality clash. Everyone has a unique personality In some cases, this isn’t the result of poor leadership or management; it’s that two workers have different creative ideas, problem-solving methods, or ideologies.

However, having employees with varied personalities is actually a bonus, as it provides the insight, critical thinking, and creativity you need to succeed in a competitive business world. Therefore, personality clashes are a necessary evil to some degree—you just have to know how to piece together teams and recognize different personalities.

Work style conflicts are another issue that you may need to address. A conflict of work example with work style just might be that different people or teams perform tasks differently—taking a different path to the common goal.

These types of conflict can be personality-based, but cultural differences can also play a role. The takeaway is that there’s no single way to complete a project—it’s just that the loudest voices are often heard the most. This, in turn, can lead to conflict among employees that can escalate quickly.

How To Resolve It

An excellent way to avoid personality clashes before they start is to make your staff take the DISC personality test. The idea behind this tests is to provide insight into each person’s personality and how you can create teams that gel with each other rather than bicker, disagree, or have a battle of egos.

Essentially, you can categorize employees into four personality types based on the DISC format:

  • Dominant
  • Influential
  • Steady
  • Conscientious

Taking this test yourself can also give some insight into how to manage others based on personality or different work styles. With the information you receive from this test, you can learn the strengths and weaknesses of team members and come up with a plan on how to shape, encourage, or manage your employees.

While employees don’t have to like each other or consider themselves friends, they need to have a mutual respect. Embed this idea in your company culture, and you’ll be far more likely to avoid a clash of personality.

Practice Conflict Resolution Skills To Help You Succeed

Woman acting as mediator between two workers

Conflict management is all about learning and practicing the skills necessary to understand, empathize, and provide impartiality in regard to a solution. Like any other type of management skill, experience is key. But by understanding the root of conflict and embracing these conflict at work examples, you’re making the first step toward becoming a great manager—and an even greater leader.

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