Conflict in the Workplace
Five causes of conflict and how to diffuse them
By Jaime A. Heidel
No matter what type of business you're in, workplace conflict is inevitable. It may arise from a misunderstanding between co-workers or poor communication within a department. No matter the cause, you can deal effectively with conflict in the workplace.
What Causes Workplace Conflict?
According to experts, the five main causes of workplace conflict are:
- Poor Communication
According to Cheryl C. Jones, Chief Success Strategist of Simply the Best Results; the top cause of workplace conflict is poor communication.
For example, a manager may assume his subordinates understand what's required of them. In so doing, he neglects to ask for feedback to clarify the employee's knowledge or understanding. The employee doesn't think to ask questions of the manager, either. This can result in frustration in the manager and confusion in the employee, creating a tense environment that can lead to conflict.
Poor communication also comes in to play when a decision is made by two people but not shared with all those who will be affected. This can result in surprise, confusion and frustration when news finally trickles down second-hand.
- Unclear Expectations
Conflict in the workplace can also be the result of unclear expectations. A manager may believe she's clearly communicated what she expects from her group but they have a completely different idea of what she expects of them.
- Personal Issues
Workplace conflict can also be the result of personal issues between coworkers. This may be the result of hurts, slights, rivalry or other conflict that has little to do with business goals or expectations.
Another component in this category is when personal issues from home directly affect the employee's performance.
- Generational or Personality Incompatibility
In most businesses, the workforce is diverse with employees ranging in age from 16-60 and beyond. This may cause a generational conflict that can make the workplace uncomfortable. For example, the 25-year-old "hipster" may talk in a way that seems too casual to the 60-year-old business veteran. This may result in a misunderstanding.
The conflict may also be the result of a simple personality clash. One employee's behavior, speech or mannerisms may just rub her coworker the wrong way.
- Stress of Competition
According to Dianne Crampton, Founder TIGERS Success Series, the stress of competition can cause workplace conflict. In a business where two departments are competing for budget needs, for example, it can cause a breakdown in communication and internal competition. It may also surface in "dog eat dog" behavior during competition for rewards, recognition and advancement.
The current economy also may be a contributing factor in workplace conflict. If there's even a perceived idea that layoffs are on the horizon, competitive behavior for rewards can escalate into desperation to hold onto a job.
Types of Conflict in the Workplace
Employee versus Employee
According to business trainer Karen Southall Watts, the best way to deal with workplace conflict is to offer conflict resolution before the workplace environment becomes hostile.
Since this often does not happen, Karen advises using the "quickly, quietly, closely" method of resolving conflict. This means tackling the problem immediately before it gets worse and talking out of earshot of others.
When the two employees sit down to talk, they should remain calm and attack the issue, not each other. The most positive way to do this is to use the first person when explaining your viewpoint. Instead of, "You said this or you did that", use statements that begin with, "I feel". This will keep the other person more receptive to what you have to say.
If the conflict is serious and the employees have no conflict resolution experience, a supervisor or human resources person should be called in to mediate.
Employee versus Manager
Dealing with employee versus manager conflict can be challenging. The proper way to deal with this type of workplace conflict will depend on its cause. If it's a communication problem or a misunderstanding of expectations, a simple meeting to "clear the air" may be all that's needed to resolve the problem.
Showing initiative and willingness to improve can go a long way in impressing a frustrated manager.
In the case where an employee feels harassed by her superior, it is a good idea to involve human resources.
The Rumor Mill — How to Deal with Passive-Aggressive Behavior
Passive-aggressive behavior such as rumor-spreading can be difficult to prove and frustrating to the recipient of the negative behavior. The conflict may have started as venting and turned into a full-fledged rumor or it may have been started on purpose. This can create a hostile work environment for the affected employee and make performing everyday tasks difficult.
If you're positive who started the rumor, it's best to go directly to the source and confront them. Remember to use, "I feel" statements, even though you may be tempted to respond emotionally.
If rumors turn into direct confrontation or name-calling, Crampton says asking the simple question, "What do you mean?" may diffuse the situation by forcing the name-caller to back up his or her claims on the spot.
When harassment gets out of control or makes you feel threatened, it is best to inform human resources as soon as possible. This way, they can help you get to the bottom of the problem. They can also remind the aggressor that their behavior is inappropriate and could have consequences.
Delicate Conflicts — When Workplace Conflict Crosses the Line
When workplace conflict crosses the line into purposeful harassment because of a fellow employee's gender, race, religious affiliation, sexual orientation or disability, it immediately becomes a human resources issue. It is important to have the incident or incidents documented in case further action is needed.
Watts advises the errant employee be reminded of the seriousness of his or her actions and be sent to sensitivity training. If the behavior continues, the employee should be terminated.
Conflict in the workplace can be kept to a minimum when a business takes the time to educate its employees about proper conflict resolution. Employees should feel empowered to solve minor conflicts on their own. If the conflict cannot be resolved between two people, a supervisor or HR representative should be called in to mediate.
- How Do You Handle Conflict? — Looking at the five styles of handling conflict
- Zip It! — Conflict resolution made simple
- Nightmare EmployeesHow to deal with difficult personalities
About the Author
Jaime A. Heidel is a professional freelance writer with a passion for helping others. To see more samples of her work and to request a private job, visit her website at: http://jaimeaheidel.com/