Tension and conflict can crop up within any team. However, not all conflict necessarily leads to poor outcomes. Understanding the different types of conflict at work and how to address them can strengthen your team’s ability to communicate and get work done.
Task Conflicts in Workflow
The first type of conflict at work are task conflicts that arise when one employee can’t complete their work until another does something. Sometimes this is unavoidable – for example, data entry must be completed before reports are run. But other times, internal processes include unnecessary interdependencies that slow things down and create opportunities for conflict. Audit your workflows to find where you can streamline the process and avoid conflict.
Competition for Resources
Sometimes the cause of the conflict isn’t the task itself, but equipment or time to do it. When resources are strained it can create conflict between those competing for them to complete their assignments. Look for places where queues form or tasks pile up. Then ask your employees why that happens. It may be because of a lack of resources.
Sometimes task conflicts can be a good thing, though. When a task depends on creativity, working to resolve another’s opposition to a brainstorm idea can be essential. This creative conflict takes time, but it often leaves your business with a better product or idea once it is resolved.
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Interpersonal Conflict at Work
Perhaps the most common type of conflict at work is interpersonal conflict. Also called relationship conflict, these disputes happen when two people’s styles and personalities don’t work well together. However, most interpersonal conflict can be resolved through careful application of conflict resolution strategies.
When individuals’ conflict resolution strategies don’t work it can cause tension with coworkers. Often, this is the result of stories each employee has told themselves about themselves, and how others treat them. When those stories don’t match, conflict can erupt. The key is to get everyone to listen with empathy to the other person’s perspective, to find the root of the problem.
Leadership Style Issues
Similarly, when employees clash with their managers or leaders, this type of conflict can be a result of that manager’s leadership style. If the leader’s management style does not fit the task or team they are working with, it can create resentment and interfere with productivity.
Values Conflict at Work
Perhaps the deepest type of conflict at work is a conflict between values. These disputes arise from a fundamental difference in employees’ identities, and what they treat as important. These conflicts can arise between employees, or against the business itself. They can make those involved become defensive and distrustful and can create division or even lead to resignation. They should be treated seriously, with a focus on mutual understanding and respect.
Conflicts of Interest
Sometimes conflict can arise between two conflicting values. This conflict may arise between teams with different priorities, or when an individual’s interests come into conflict with those of the business. For example, when an employee’s child is sick the day of a big presentation, it can create a conflict of interest where the employee values both their family and the presentation. In these cases, managers will need to weigh both priorities, understand their employee’s needs, and determine if they can accommodate them.
Discrimination in the Workplace
When conflict arises around someone’s identity – their race, religion, sex or gender, or disability – it carries with it the risk of harassment and discrimination claims. This type of conflict can be harmful to your business and to your employees’ physical and mental health. Conduct targeting a person’s identity likely goes against the company’s values. It is up to the leadership team to identify the cause of the conflict and resolve it in a way that it won’t resurface later.
Get Help Managing Different Types of Conflict at Work
Different types of conflict at work require different conflict resolution strategies. By working with a business consultant and conflict resolution facilitator, you can help your employees work through even tough, value-based conflict in a way that treats them with respect and teaches them how to collaborate more effectively.
David Stanislaw is an organizational development specialist with over 25 years’ experience helping resolve workplace disputes. Through facilitated conflict resolution, David helps small and medium-sized businesses reduce conflict in their workplaces. Contact us to meet with David to move toward conflict resolution today.