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Major Causes of Workplace Conflict

The workplace is typically an environment in which people have different personalities, communication styles, and worldviews interact. These differences of one another can be a potential source of workplace issues, and it can lead to stress and tension for those who are involved. Some employees may experience dissatisfaction with their work, struggle with their performance on their job, or have difficulty finding a job that fits their abilities and interests. These workplace problems can be severe enough to affect productivity and create a toxic work environment.

If a conflict is effectively settled then the presence of conflict is not a negative thing, it leads to personal and professional growth. Conflict is normal and natural in any workplace. However, workplace conflicts are not always easy to resolve. While conflict is a normal part of any social and organizational setting, the challenge of conflict lies in how one chooses to deal with it. 

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Avoiding conflict is often the easiest way to deal with it, however, it doesn’t make it go away. Rather it pushes the conflicts underground, only to have it resurface in a new form. By actively resolving conflicts when it occurs, we can create a more positive work environment for everyone. But what are the major causes of workplace conflict?

  • Personality clashes – the ‘personality mix’ within a team can be upset when a new member of staff joins or if two colleagues suddenly fall out. Individuals may also respond to difficult or challenging situations in an unhelpful or unproductive way.
  • Unrealistic needs and expectations – conflict at work can often be caused when employers ignore the needs of employees or set unrealistic expectations. For example, arranging hours that make it difficult for employees to carry out childcare responsibilities.
  • Business values – most people have very clear ideas about what they think is fair, and your organization’s procedures and policies must reflect this. For example, giving someone a fair hearing or explaining the reasoning behind a decision.
  • Unresolved workplace issues – for example, an employee might ask to be moved to another team because of their manager’s ‘aggressive’ leadership style. However, the employee may have other reasons – for example, they may blame their manager for a lack of training or career progression.
  • Increase in workload – sometimes workplace conflict is caused because people feel they are being pushed too hard and resentment sets in if they feel their workload is unmanageable.

Conflicts always occur in the workplace, issues that escalate quickly should be brought to the attention of management, and acute circumstances, HR. The ability to recognize conflicts, and to be able to bring a swift and just resolution to conflict will serve you well as a leader – the inability to do so may well be your downfall.


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