Insider Intelligence: Conflict in the Workplace

March 16, 2018
Examining the sources and how to resolve them

The age-old saying states that there are two certainties in life – death and taxes. The reality is that in business life, there are many additional occurrences that are equally as certain – one of which is conflict.

According to Wikipedia, workplace conflict is defined as, “a state of discord caused by the actual or perceived opposition of needs, values and interests between people working together.” Synonyms for conflict are disagreement, quarrel, squabble and dissension. Ever had one of those at work? I thought so, and you are not alone.

According to many pundits and leading websites, there are the five common types of workplace conflict:

1. Interdependence Conflict: This type of conflict happens when a person relies on someone else in the organization for their success. Let’s say that two coworkers are assigned a project with a tight deadline. Employee A is organized and efficient and wants to schedule time in regular intervals so they hit the deadline. Employee B tends to miss meetings and seems very unconcerned about the project. Lots of potential conflict in this scenario.

2. Style Differences: Employees have many ways to get a job completed. For instance, some people want to meet and assign tasks and make certain that everyone has an equal say. Others may just want to work independently, set their own schedule and proceed without input from the group. Such style differences can certainly lead to conflict if not managed well, but good leaders can also assemble very successful teams by recognizing the strengths of each style.

3. Differences in Age, Gender, Politics: Conflicts can arise between people because of differences in age, educational backgrounds, personal experiences, gender, political preferences – the list goes on and on. Rather than focusing on our differences, we should be rejoicing in the fact that people are multi-faceted and have specific likes and dislikes. Seizing on that dynamic can bring new insights, fresh ideas and new methods for problem solving.

4. Differences in Leadership Style: Managers and business leaders have many ways of leading their teams and many employees must answer to multiple people – each with a different style of leadership. Your employees can easily experience conflict just dealing with multiple department heads as well as competing priorities.

5. Personality Clashes: Some team members and even leaders can tend to manage through emotion while others can be very glib and reluctant to show emotion on any topic. This can easily lead to perceptions that are incorrect – but perception is reality. For a time period in my past, I reported to an outside sales leader who tended to go engage in emotional outbursts when questioning managers on metrics and goal completion. After a number of these monthly outbursts, managers tended not to discuss any topic that could be incur the wrath of this leader. This is extremely unhealthy and can stop a company dead in its tracks.

Conflict Resolution

There are literally thousands of thought provoking books and articles on how leaders can resolve workplace conflict, but I ascribe to three basic principles when it comes to conflict resolution strategies:

  • Develop a set of guiding principles for your company: Set the tone early and often to all employees that your company has core beliefs on how customers and employees are to be treated. Never waver from those principles.
  • When attempting to resolve workplace conflict, try to not be judgmental: Gather the facts and try to get to the root cause of the conflict. This could be done with a “5 Why” exercise. This Six Sigma practice can help to burrow down to the underlying reason for the conflict by simply asking the question, “why” five times to get to the heart of the matter.
  • Above all else, be trustworthy as a leader: Your employees and co-workers must have trust in you if you hope to resolve workplace conflict.

Ric McCullough is COO for PSA Security Network. To request more information about PSA, please visit