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common causes of workplace conflicts
Elorus Team

Causes of Common Workplace Conflicts Explained

The past few blog topics have been revolving around team management; how to manage teams, make them more effective and promote a healthy workplace environment in which your employees can thrive.

We have also given special attention to the ways different personalities in the workplace influence its balance and dynamics. However, despite a manager’s best efforts conflict is inevitable in some cases and you need to be prepared to resolve it as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Tension in the workplace can be a result of multiple factors such as job dissatisfaction, cultural differences, personal aspirations and many more. If left undealt with, these issues can wreak havoc on your employees’ productivity and cause deeper problems like absenteeism, low productivity and high employee turnover.

Despite the fact that conflicts generally have a negative connotation, you can actually turn them around and make them work to your advantage!

But, first things first. In this article, we are going to give you all the information you need in order to identify common workplace conflicts and introduce you to the concept of leadership and conflict resolution management.

Moreover, we are going to illustrate some of the most common examples of conflict in the workplace and explain the definition of what is workplace conflict. Let’s dive in!

What is conflict management

Conflict management is the sum of techniques and practices a good team leader follows in order to handle conflicts that occur among staff members, or between employees and the higher management.

Employee dispute resolution in the workplace is not, by any means, an easy task. It takes a lot of sensible thinking and sense of fairness to be able to bring the two opposite sides to compromise and work out their differences in a civilized manner.

There are several approaches to conflict management and, depending on the type of conflict, you can choose a different course of action.

How to identify conflicts in the workplace

The first step to managing employee conflict is acknowledging that one exists. To spot possible disputes and tension, you may want to look out for the indications mentioned below:

  • Unhappy faces: Take a walk around the company offices and observe the employees’ expressions. Look for people who seem depressed or stressed out and arrange a meeting with them or the HR department to discuss possible problems they might be facing regarding their workload, responsibilities or personal matters that burden them. Unhappy employees are more prone to inciting tension and spotting this before it becomes a bigger issue will benefit your company’s welfare more than you think.
  • Corridor gossiping: While taking that walk around the office, be sure to check for cliques that might be whispering to each other on the corridors. A very common source of fighting in the workplace are groups of employees who have teamed up to undermine other so as to promote their own interests inside the company.
  • Shouting: An obvious sign of conflicts in the workplace is the audible form of its expression. If some of your employees are becoming more and more easily agitated, you might want to discover the cause of their irritability to avoid future problems.
  • Avoiding communication/eye-contact: Apart from leading meetings, you can also pay close attention team members who avoid interacting with each other. They might not greet each other or avoid eye-contact when in the same room, which is a clear indicator of conflict, imminent or pre-existing.
  • Complaints directly from a team member: The official way for employees to express dissatisfaction or report their involvement in any kind of conflict, is to file a complaint with the HR department. If your company does not have a specific person who handles such matters, that person should be you, the team leader. Always make sure to double-check the facts with your team and try listening to both sides of the story. This will not only make you come across as the sympathetic leader that you are but also encourage your team to come to you (or the HR) for any matter that concerns them, before resorting to less amiable solutions.

Keep in mind that employees intuitively avoid reporting such issues out fear that this might further escalate the situation. Consequently, look out for team members who might hide things from you.

Basic Types of Conflict

Depending on the causes of conflict in the workplace, there can be conflicts that occur between team members of different ranks or between different personalities – regardless of rank. So, below we give you the main conflict management types.

  • Leader vs employee: They may be due to the leader’s unreasonable demands or the employee’s low productivity levels.
  • Employee vs employee: Team members sometimes find it difficult to cooperate when their roles in the company are not clearly outlined or overlap each other. Everyday stress can also cause them to irritate one another.
  • Personal disputes: Conflicts may also stem from personal differences such as cultural background, religion or character incompatibility.
  • Business disputes: More often than not, stressful periods or projects can be a fertile ground for business-related conflicts to arise. They are usually temporary, provided that you address them promptly and appropriately.

In order to discover what causes conflict in the workplace, oftentimes, you have to dig deeper and identify more specific types of conflicts that stem from variables.

#1 Leadership style

Every team leader has their own style when it comes to team management. Leadership conflicts in the workplace usually occur when changes in management take place or new leaders join a team. Moreover, due to the inevitable collaboration between different departments inside a company, those different styles of leadershipcan confuse employees and create tension, especially during stressful periods.

For example, the leader of one team may be demanding and lead “by the book” whereas another team’s leader may be a bit more flexible and open to new ideas. When the time comes to cooperate for a project, their leadership styles may cause irritation. Conflict management is the way to smooth out those differences so they can work together effectively.

#2 Personality Type

Personality conflicts at work are awfully common among employees – regardless of position. This kind of conflict in the workplace usually occur because of mistaken perceptions of co-workers’ attitudes. When different personality types work together, the likelihood of misunderstanding each other’s motives, character and actions are high.

For example, if an employee is introverted and does not engage in conversations or out-of-work activities, they might be perceived as snobby by the rest of the team or even rude. This can cause unnecessary problems in their collaboration, thus impeding the team’s productivity.

#3 Responsibility Type

A common phenomenon that incites disputes is blame shifting. When a task isn’t carried out properly and the person responsible is about to be reprimanded, they may place the blame on somebody else. However, this is not always fair or justified.

For instance, if your marketing manager fails to complete a competition report but blames the sales manager for their shortcomings, it is clearly wrong. This is the reason why every employee’s responsibilities and duties must be clearly stated in their contract. In addition, the team leader must make sure that everyone stays on track with the schedule and the company goals.

#4 Cultural conflicts

It comes as no surprise that employees of different cultural backgrounds and beliefs can sometimes be involved in conflicts. Workplace diversity, however, besides of being a favourite buzz word among human resources managers, is a desirable attribute of your company’s culture.

Striking balance and trying to remind people of their similarities instead of accentuating all the ways in which they differ is the wrong approach towards handling cultural conflicts in the workplace.

#5 Working style type

Finally, each individual has their own pace in which they complete assigned tasks. One employee may be quick to carry out their duties while others like to pay more attention to detail, thus needing more time. Moreover, some employees are more team players than others who may prefer working alone without interruptions or external inputs.

Understanding and respecting each team member’s working style is important in forming teams out of individuals with compatible styles. This will enable you not only to manage conflicts but also train them better!


In this article, we gave you some conflict management examples that might prove helpful in avoiding tension in the workplace. Our next article will be about the different ways to resolve conflicts, so stay tuned!

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