How to Deal With Conflict in the Workplace

A recent study of remote workers found that 80% of respondents experienced conflict in a remote environment. If you broaden the focus to all types of workplaces, another study found that 85% of employees at all levels have experienced workplace conflict to some degree. 

That means that most of us have dealt with our fair share of workplace drama. 

Conflict at work is inevitable, but even though we can’t entirely avoid it, we can become better at resolving our disputes. How well you and your team handle conflict can make a world of difference to your organization, even when there are intimidating situations to address.

Have no fear because we’re diving into workplace conflicts — including what they are, how to spot them, and how to help resolve them. 

What is conflict in the workplace?

Workplace conflict occurs when there’s a disagreement amongst employees due to opposing interests, personalities, beliefs, or ideas. Conflict in the workplace is natural and bound to occur when you have people of different backgrounds and perspectives working side-by-side. 

Conflict can be expressed in various ways, including lack of cooperation, verbal insults, bullying, anger, poor quality or delayed work, project failure, and more.

You don’t have to fear workplace conflict in your organization. It’s natural and can even be healthy when dealt with appropriately. Let’s explore the types of conflict in the workplace, signs of conflict, and tips for conflict resolution to help you tackle disputes in your organization. 

Are there different types of conflict in the workplace?

Yes, not all conflicts are the same — there are different types of conflict in the workplace. Let’s take a look at some of the most common types to watch out for: 

1. Personality conflicts

Clashes due to different personality types are some of the most common types of workplace conflicts. These conflicts are impossible to avoid because we all have our own personalities and won’t get along with every person we meet. Personality-based conflicts can be challenging and frustrating, but it’s beneficial to learn how to work with individuals whose approaches and perspectives are different from your own. 

2. Interdependent task-based conflicts

Think about the processes that help your organization stay afloat. Often, there are a lot of cross-functional processes that take place within interdependent workstreams. For example, your IT department may be responsible for setting up accounts and technology for new hires once HR informs them of the new hire’s start date. But what if HR forgets to tell IT about a new hire and the new employee arrives on their first day and isn’t set up and ready to work? These types of interdependencies can be frustrating and cause conflict, particularly amongst departments.

3. Style-based conflicts

Sometimes conflict occurs because people have different styles for getting work done. Maybe one of your employees moves at a rapid pace, but another is more methodical and takes time to think tasks through before performing. These two employees with very different working styles may find it challenging to work together. It’s essential to recognize that everyone’s work styles are different, and various strategies may need to be used for successful team collaboration.

4. Leadership style conflicts

Similar to style-based conflicts, differences in leadership styles can lead to conflict. Some leaders are direct and short, while others may come across as more open and collaborative. No matter your approach to leadership, it’s essential to understand your style so you can communicate to your team how best to work with you. 

How can you spot signs of conflict at work?

Recognizing and identifying early signs of conflict at work is the best way to get ahead of tension and disagreements before they become detrimental to your organization. The good news is there are warning signs to watch out for to help you be more proactive with your conflict resolution techniques. Here’s how you can spot signs of conflict at work:

  • Pay attention to decreased productivity. When conflict arises, workplace productivity takes a hit. If employees are struggling to get along and work together successfully, it should be no surprise that productivity goes down. If your employees are unhappy in their environment, they may feel less motivated and focused on their work, which can slow delivery and project completion timelines.
  • Be mindful of turnover and absenteeism rates. If you suddenly experience a high staff turnover or start to notice employees calling in sick or not showing up for work, you should do some investigating. Avoiding the work environment may be employees’ way of coping with the conflict, especially if they aren’t receiving any additional help resolving it. Talk to your employees who leave to understand their reasoning. Be sure to check in with frequently absent employees to understand if they are experiencing any conflicts that prevent them from showing up for work.
  • Listen for direct complaints from your staff. Pay attention to what your employees are saying directly. Some dissatisfied employees may not be afraid to make their feelings known. Hear them out and try not to write off complaints as petty grievances — listen to them to see if you can pick out more significant conflicts that you can help address.
  • Identify changes in interactions amongst employees. The way employees express themselves, primarily if a dramatic shift in behavior occurs, can indicate whether a conflict has or is occurring. Notice if an employee refuses to talk to another one suddenly or repeatedly talks about the same individual in a negative light. Be particularly cautious of rude or inappropriate behavior as this might indicate that the conflict is severe.

Remember that when it comes to managing conflict in the workplace, no two conflicts are the same. The warning signs may differ depending on the employees involved and how severe the conflict is.

Top tips for conflict resolution in the workplace

As a manager or team leader, you want to ensure you’re well equipped to manage conflict when it arises (because you know it will) So, what can you do to help resolve a conflict and prevent it from spiraling? Try these tips.

1. Get to the root cause of the conflict 

If you’re managing employee conflict that you aren’t directly involved in, the first thing you need to do is get to the root cause. 

Allow each party to share their side of the story with you separately to understand better how each person feels and what the disagreement is. Ensure you obtain as much information from both parties as possible and ask questions to gain clarity. Avoid taking sides and hear each person out without any biased perspectives. 

As a neutral mediator, you can help both parties discuss their issues in a meaningful and healthy way. 

2. Schedule a time to meet and discuss the conflict in a neutral location

Conflicts can’t be resolved unless they’re discussed and worked through. Attempting to talk through disagreements using online methods of communication can lead to misinterpretations and further conflict, so try to schedule a time to meet and discuss either virtually or in person. 

Find a time to meet far enough in advance that all parties have an opportunity to prepare for the meeting and think through what they want to say. Try to set up the meeting in a neutral location so that the environment isn’t more comfortable for one party or the other. Allow everyone to share their side of the story, and try not to let one person dominate the conversation. 

3. Identify and work toward solutions both parties can support

Once you’ve heard both parties out and allowed them to meet and discuss the conflict themselves, you should help the people involved identify solutions and the next steps everyone can agree on. 

You must determine a mutually agreed-upon solution to keep everyone on the same page and working toward a shared goal. Each person should understand what is expected of them and what actionable steps they need to take to move the situation forward toward a resolution. If you can’t reach a solution, it might be time to loop in your HR team to develop and direct the next steps. 

How to resolve workplace conflict remotely

What about when you and your team members are distributed across the country or globe? How can you work through your issues in a way that’s professional, polite, and productive when you can’t even be in the same room? 

Resolving workplace conflict remotely presents its unique challenges, but fear not, you can resolve remote conflicts using similar tips to the ones described above. 

With remote work, communication is crucial. You’ll have to lean on virtual meetings and phone calls to work through the conflict in a remote environment, but it can be done. Pull all parties together in a virtual meeting after hearing from them individually to discuss the conflict and voice their concerns. Determine the next steps together and be sure to document them. 

Re-communicate those action items in writing to avoid further miscommunication or misinterpretation issues. You should also set a follow-up meeting or multiple meetings to check in with your employees and see how things are going and if the dynamic is improving over time.

How to resolve and manage employee conflict using Wrike 

Conflict at work is common, and there are a number of factors that can inspire tension and disagreements. But one of the big ones? Breakdowns in communication play a prominent role, but fortunately, Wrike can help with that.

Wrike can help reduce the number of workplace conflicts by:

  • Streamlining collaboration to help ensure your team knows who is responsible for what
  • Improving and centralizing communication
  • Increasing team alignment and reducing silos 
  • Simplifying feedback loops for quicker turnarounds 

When you empower your team with the right tools to bridge gaps in communication, you’re setting your team up to do their best work together with minimal conflict along the way. 

Ready to get started? Sign up for your free trial of Wrike.

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