Conflict in the workplace is something that 85% of the adult population deals with now or has dealt with in the past. The workplace blends people with different opinions, life experiences, cultures, and sometimes clashing personalities. They spend most of their day together, sometimes relying on each other for productivity purposes, and often with high stakes and pressures. It is little wonder that conflict happens.

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable and can be frustrating, but it isn’t impossible to navigate. You might be a person who is conflict-avoidant, freezing or fleeing at the sound of raised voices, and desperate to escape tense environments. In this case, you need tools and tips to cope, or you could risk a decline in your mental and physical health.

On the other hand, we might react to conflict by charging with our heads down and with little regard for anyone else. While this response is only natural for some, it frequently causes damage and impedes progress and productivity. People with an attack first and ask questions later approach must learn to put aside their egos and deal with their temper to resolve conflict.

Behind most conflicts are legitimate reasons. Poor working conditions, abusive leadership, or team members neglecting their duties are all things that should not be ignored. However, it is not always easy to find a way to resolve these issues. We will look at some of the most common causes of conflict in the workplace and examine solutions to each instance.

What is conflict?

Many people struggle to define conflict, and often mistakenly conflate it with confrontation. Our personalities and different cultures often determine how we react to conflict and respond to confrontation.

For example, a person who was raised in a non-confrontational environment where direct questions were never encouraged might struggle with a direct or blunt coworker or boss. When questioned by a boss, they might feel like they are being interrogated or provoked, even if the line of questioning was neutral.

Confrontation and conflict are two different things, though they can overlap. Confrontation often looks like direct questioning, asking for information, addressing issues clearly, and demanding explanations. If done in a brisk or abrasive manner, this can be unpleasant, but it is also a common part of a work environment.

Conflict looks like heated arguments, verbal insults, toxic behavior like bullying, blame-shifting, and refusal to cooperate with team members. Workplace conflict may be an ongoing issue that simmers below the surface of a work environment for months, resulting in tension and a toxic atmosphere. Prolonged conflict affects mood, morale, productivity, and mental and physical health.

Causes of conflict in the workplace.

Personality conflicts are one of the five main areas that potentially cause conflict in the workplace. Differing cultures, backgrounds, religions, and ethics might contribute to workplace clashes. Multicultural work environments are rich in differences, and often rich in conflict. Cooperation and empathy are vital for progress, and any tensions that arise due to discrimination must be confronted immediately.

When conflicts arise in a workplace, it is up to the leadership to intervene and bring resolve. But frequently it is the leadership itself that is the cause of workplace conflict. Whether it’s a result of their leadership style being poorly received, neglect of duties, failure to communicate, reluctance to confront issues, or bullying behavior, leaders often get it wrong.

It can be difficult to confront leadership problems, and it might be unwise to remain in a workplace with poor or abusive leadership that cannot be addressed.

Communication breakdowns often lead to task-based conflict. This is where a lack of coordination or poor communication leads to suffering productivity and performance, work delays, and tension between coworkers.

Workers might need further clarification on what is expected of them, a better delegation of tasks, or may need to learn to collaborate more effectively. Failure to do these things will result in blame, arguments, or despondency.

A workplace is made up of individuals with preferences in the way they work. This often leads to working-style conflict. Some people prefer to work alone, due to concentration difficulties. Another person with the same type of difficulties might find that they focus better when they can ask questions and verbally confirm instructions.

Some people are more productive under pressure, and so may intentionally wait for deadlines to close in, while others become anxious at the thought of cutting deadlines too tightly.

Many cases of workplace conflict are legitimate, like poor working conditions or abusive leadership. Some instances of conflict stem from ego, discrimination, and misunderstanding. In every case, there can be no satisfying progress until the conflict is acknowledged, addressed, and resolved.

Tips for resolving workplace conflict.

Determine the root.

The first step in resolving any workplace conflict is to determine the root cause. For this to happen there needs to be a neutral mediator (someone who will not take sides), and a safe space for each party to air their grievance. Depending on the type of conflict, this may be a simple investigation, or it may be a complex issue that requires detangling.

The key here is to use open-ended questions to elicit as much information as possible, and to listen to the answers, observing all the messages and emotions with which the person communicates.

Ongoing conflicts tend to be more complex, with layers of offense that need to be peeled away. Only when you can determine the root cause of the conflict in an unbiased way can you determine which steps to take next. This might require multiple sessions and so patience is necessary.

Outline the mutual goal: putting the issue to rest.

Conflict often divides people. This division in the workplace leads to numerous problems, including diminished production, affected profits, and costly losses. But, more importantly, it can result in factions, petty fighting, abuse, and even targeted harassment.

Therefore, a major component of resolving conflict is to realize and outline a mutual goal. This goal is always to lay the issue finally and fully to rest. Before that can happen, it may be important to give some time and space to both parties to express any ill feelings onto which they will still be holding. We are never ready to let an issue go until we feel that justice was served. This might simply look like having our voices heard.

When you are confident that everything has been expressed and everyone has been heard, determine how both parties will keep the issue resolved. The parties need to determine these solutions themselves. For example, one might express, “I don’t appreciate it when you communicate sarcastically with me,” to which the other party must agree to no longer use sarcasm when talking with this coworker. Goals are met by achievable steps and intentionality.

Evaluate progress.

This is an important step in the process. It’s not simply for monitoring purposes, but because following up on issues proves that you truly care. It is never wise to presume that any issue has been laid to rest, especially if it was an ongoing conflict. Checking in to determine how both parties are progressing is vital. It reinforces how much you value both members, and how you regard the issue that caused conflict in the first place.

This is also an opportunity to fine-tune the steps to meet the goal. There may be a more effective solution to be found, in which case it bears discussing. If there truly has been resolve to the issue, it is worth reflecting on the journey it took to get here. This is an opportunity for growth and quiet celebration.


Workplace conflict is inevitable but should not be ignored. Unresolved conflict can lead to deep issues, both for the people involved and the productivity of the company. Workplace conflict stems from personality clashes, leadership problems, communication issues, personal working style clashes, and weightier issues like abuse and discrimination.

It is up to the leadership to intervene in conflicts and bring resolution. In instances where leadership is the source of conflict, a neutral party must be brought in to bring resolve. All affected and offended parties must be heard and understood first, which may take some time. This will lead to an understanding of the issue, after which a mutually agreed upon goal must be met with the efforts of everyone involved.

Reaching out.

Sometimes, conflict at work is enough to cause sleepless nights, stress, and tension that carries over into our home lives. It can seem impossible to compartmentalize our lives into simply “home” and “work.” Often, we find that we need to talk about the struggles that take place at work, and we might need a neutral or outside perspective to gain clarity over the situation.

Speaking to a counselor might help you in this regard. You may only require a few sessions to find a breakthrough, but it could be all you need to drastically improve your mental health. Call us at your convenience to book an appointment with me or another professional counselor in our online directory.

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