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Define Conflict in the Workplace

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Conflict in the workplace is a normal occurrence in most organizations. Dictionary definitions vary from calling it a sharp disagreement to opposing ideas and interests. Conflict management expert and organizational psychologist David G. Javitch, Ph.D., defines it simply as tension and believes it offers benefits, as well as disadvantages, in the workplace. Wherever people work together, conflict is likely to arise, and it presents a challenge to which management must respond constructively.


Over the years, experts have categorized workplace conflict into various types. Interpersonal conflict includes personality clashes and difficulty working with others, both of which can lead to the employees showing anger and exchanging negative comments. Workplace complaints include disagreement with policies and procedures, management decisions and individual entitlements, which give rise to conflict between the employer or his representative and the employee.


One of the most common causes of workplace conflict is the personality clash. Individuals all have different values and beliefs, which affects the way they approach work and problem-solving. Clashes occur when workers have difficulty understanding or accepting others’ methods. Other causes include conflicting needs, poor communication that causes misunderstandings, scarcity of resources that results in competition between workers and poor performance by some employees that causes additional workload for others.


Individual managers use different styles to address workplace conflicts. These styles typically fall into one of five categories, which can be equally effective even though the approaches are different. A confrontational approach addresses the conflict directly and tries to force a resolution, while a compromising approach requires the parties in conflict to negotiate and agree on common ground. A collaborative approach involves working together to find a mutually agreeable solution. Accommodation means each side agrees to disagree and accommodate the other’s view, and avoidance requires all parties to simply avoid becoming drawn into conflict over any issues.


Prevent workplace conflicts from arising by hiring staff with balanced personality types and by fostering a company culture based on shared values and beliefs. Establish ground rules for all employees, such as a code of conduct and a disciplinary procedure for contravening the code. Set priorities that enable workers to know what is expected of them and how to achieve it. Promote effective listening to help employees develop their awareness of others’ methods and viewpoints.


Tracey Sandilands has written professionally since 1990, covering business, home ownership and pets. She holds a professional business management qualification, a bachelor's degree in communications and a diploma in public relations and journalism. Sandilands is the former editor of an international property news portal and an experienced dog breeder and trainer.

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