The workplace is probably one of the most interesting places in which a person can engage. Employment by its nature brings together people of different backgrounds, cultures, political beliefs, religious beliefs, intellectual capacities, and several other different social classifications, all of which can spark conflict in the workplace.

Most employers are primarily concerned about bringing people on board who will advance their interests regardless of background. On the other hand, due to the high cost of living, most employees are concerned about getting a job whose paycheck has the most zeroes making everything else secondary.

Because of this diversity, most workplaces are rich in ideas, talent, creativity, and culture. Yet this same diversity can make the workplace an environment rife with conflict. It is estimated that an average person spends one-third of their life at work during their lifetime. so an average worker is likely to deal with one conflict or the other at some point in their career.

Defined simply, conflict is a strong and active disagreement between people arising out of differences. So, while conflict can be prevented, it is certainly inherent in human nature because no two people are the same. This is especially true in the workplace.

Common causes of conflict in the workplace

There are several triggers of conflict in the workplace, but we will discuss some of the most common causes below:

Personality differences

In case you are wondering what personality has to do with work-related issues, the answer is simple. A person’s personality shapes his or her habits, approach to certain things, general behavior, and beliefs including how he or she perceives and relates to others in the workplace. Working harmoniously with others requires the ability to tolerate different personalities. Where one is intolerant of others, this might lead to constant conflict in the workplace.

Different workstyles

When different workers work together as part of a team, this may potentially lead to conflict because people have different work styles. For example, some individuals are ultra-organized, preferring to prepare a to-do list so that they miss nothing including deadlines. Others prefer to just take each day as it comes and sometimes barely make deadlines.

This difference can be frustrating for the parties involved because the ultra-organized individual may feel let down by their take-each-day-as-it-comes teammates. On the other hand, the take-each-day-as-it-comes worker may feel as though the ultra-organized teammate is bossy and too demanding


These are conflicts that arise because co-workers disagree on what needs to be done, who needs to do it, and how it needs to be done sometimes bringing the task/project to a standstill. Task conflicts arise primarily because people interpret the assignment before them differently including the facts on which it is based and the company policies regulating it.

Shared resources conflicts

Each employee has targets that he or she must meet and therefore always prioritizes his or her work. When the completion of his or her work is dependent on shared office equipment or other shared resources like meeting rooms/boardrooms, conflict may arise if someone else is using the said equipment or resources at the same time trying to also meet personal targets.

The clash normally arises based on the “whose work must take priority” question. If both parties feel their assignment needs to be prioritized, this might lead to serious conflict.

Role-based conflicts

Sometimes certain company policies are not clear on who must perform certain roles or certain roles may overlap. This may result in a person being pulled from different directions at the same time.

The most common type of role conflict occurs when a worker is expected to complete different roles at the same time. An example is when the same employee is asked to do two different tasks by two of her superiors at the same time. The challenge would be how to reconcile these conflicting roles.

Role conflict also arises when a person’s role does not align with his or her values and beliefs. When an employee is constantly asked to do something that is not in his or her job description, it may also lead to role conflict.

Unfair labor practices conflicts

These conflicts normally arise between an ordinary employee and management where an employee feels discriminated against in regard to promotions, training, opportunities, salary or other incentives and benefits.

Leadership style conflicts

Where a company has different departments headed by different leaders yet working toward the same vision, these leaders may have different leadership styles. One leader may be democratic, letting his subordinates express their opinions and ideas freely.

Another may be autocratic and expect his subordinates to do what they are told when they are told and how they are told. This may lead to conflict in that each of the leaders may feel the other is not acting in the best interests of the company.

Poor communication

Poor communication in the workplace is a recipe for disaster. It affects team efficiency, leaves workers frustrated and uncertain of what their assignments are, and often leads to poor performance and low morale.

Poor communication may leave many tasks uncompleted because one employee may assume that a particular task is someone else’s responsibility, thereby hindering productivity. All these factors may lead to conflict and employees blaming each other for the poor performance of the company.

Unresolved conflicts

The company leadership must have conflict resolution strategies in place. If conflicts within the workplace are not effectively addressed when they arise, it will only lead to a toxic workplace where conflicts are constantly arising due to employees who are frustrated and stressed.

Dealing with conflict in the workplace

To deal with conflict effectively in the workplace, a company must have conflict resolution strategies that are alert and responsive. The following are some of the most effective ways of dealing with conflict in the workplace.

Identify the cause of conflict

The first step in dealing with any type of conflict is to identify where it originates. Conflict is easier to deal with where one can identify its causes. As a leader trying to deal with the conflict, it is important to objectively collect as many facts as possible and any other available information surrounding the conflict to have a large and complete picture of the conflict.

Identifying the root cause of a conflict helps people come up with specific solutions. This may also help in the formulation of strategies for preventing future conflicts of the same nature.

Open communication

Whenever there is a conflict, the person dealing with the conflict needs to encourage open and free communication from parties to the conflict. The first step in encouraging open communication is ensuring privacy when having discussions related to the conflict.

If employees don’t feel that sense of privacy, they may not fully open up which may defeat the purpose of conflict resolution. Find a private place to hold these discussions and actively listen to what parties to the conflict have to say.

Be careful not to prematurely pick sides or make conclusions as this may affect your judgment and may cause further conflict in the workplace. To avoid a “he-said-she-said” scenario, it may be prudent to have both parties share their side of the story in the presence of the other.

This approach may not work where parties to the conflict are superior and subordinate as the subordinate may feel intimidated to express themselves freely in front of their superior.

Conduct independent investigations

Depending on the nature of the conflict, it may be necessary to conduct independent investigations and research into the conflict before passing any judgment to ensure that nothing is overlooked. In so doing, you might uncover other hidden sources of the conflict which may help come up with solutions.

Formulate the best solution

When you have a better understanding of the conflict and its source, you and the parties involved need to brainstorm the solutions to the conflict and come up with a solution that has the best interests of the company at its center.

Considering that the parties may still have to work together, the solution must both be amicable and include preventative measures to avoid future similar conflicts. If you are leading this process, you must avoid favoritism and remain objective throughout the process.

Follow up and evaluate

Just because you have sat down with the parties and formulated a solution doesn’t always mean the conflict will immediately disappear. It is important to follow up with the parties involved and establish if the solution is working and adjust it accordingly where there is a need.

How a counselor can help with conflict in the workplace

Conflict in the workplace is such a broad topic with many facets. If you would like to talk more about it, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a Christian counselor who is skilled in conflict resolution.

“Working”, Courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio,, CC0 License; “Co-workers”, Courtesy of Rebrand Cities,, CC0 License; “Meeting”, Courtesy of Tim Gouw,, CC0 License; “Team Meeting”, Courtesy of fauxels,, CC0 License


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