Conflict in the Workplace

A Conflict in the workplace can be a normal part of doing business. In some cases, conflict that is managed properly can be beneficial when it supports an environment of healthy competition. However, conflict may also have a detrimental effect. As a business owner or manager, you need to be aware of potential sources of conflict in the workplace environment.

Interpersonal Relationships

When different personalities come together in a workplace, there is always the possibility they won’t mesh. Office gossip and rumors can also serve as a catalyst for deterioration of co-worker relationships. Train your employees on the no gossip rule and provide support (i.e conflict mediation or coaching) to help them if a conflict should arise.


Implementation of new technology can lead to stressful change. Workers who don’t adapt well to change can become overly stressed, which increases the likelihood of conflict in the workplace. Make sure you ask your employees how they are doing with the new technology. Provide mentors or trainings to help employees learn the new technology.

Poor Communication

Companies or supervisors that don’t communicate effectively can create conflict. For example, a supervisor who gives unclear instructions to employees can cause confusion as to who is supposed to do what, which can lead to conflict. Get feedback from your staff at least four times a year on how well you are communicating. You can even use the “Keep, Stop, Start exercise from above”.

Supervisor vs. Employee


Just as co-worker personalities may not mesh, a supervisor and employee can also experience conflict. A supervisor who is seen as overbearing or unfair can rub an employee the wrong way, which makes the working relationship more difficult. Provide monthly meetings where employees and supervisors can sit down and do a “Keep, Stop, Start” exercise. Both the supervisor and employee can ask each other: “What do you want me to Keep doing, Start doing and Stop doing”. This exercise really helps to open up lines of communication and respect.


External Changes

When the economy slides into a recession or a new competitor swoops in and steals some of a company’s market share, it can create tension within the company. This stress can lead to conflict between employees and even between upper levels of management. It is important to keep lines of communication open and provide other ways to engage employees to stay motivated. Employee recognition is always rewarding if managers are since about it.

Below Average Performance

When a worker in a department is not “pulling his weight,” it can lead to conflict in the workplace, perhaps even escalating into a confrontational situation. A supervisor who fails to acknowledge or address the situation can add fuel to the fire.


Harassment in the workplace can take many forms, such as sexual or racial harassment or even the hazing of a new employee. Companies that don’t have strong harassment policies in place are in effect encouraging the behavior, which can result in conflict.

Limited Resources

Companies that are looking to cut costs may scale back on resources such as office equipment, access to a company vehicle or the spending limit on expense accounts. Employees may feel they are competing against each other for resources, which can create conflict in the workplace. Make sure the cutbacks are fair. I would ask employees what they think is most important to keep and where can spending be limited. Getting buy in from your employees is crucial.

So if Conflict in the Workplace arises, don’t panic. There are things you can do to handle each situation. The most important thing is to be aware of the things that are causing the conflict. There are books, tapes, conflict coaching and mediation that can all help you! Feel free to drop me a line and let me know what you are dealing with.

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