The Five Most Common Types of Conflict In The Workplace


There are many types of conflict in the workplace that you will need to deal with. By far the most frequently and certainly most challenging are Personality conflicts.

However, there are four other ways conflict arises at work, that are worthy of mentioning, before we take a deeper at one of the ways you can minimize the negative impact of personality clashes.

Conflict reaction

1. Interdependence Conflicts

These types of conflict happen when a person relies on someone else's co-operation, output or input in order for them to get their job done. For example, a sales-person is constantly late inputting the monthly sales figures, which causes the accountant to be late with her reports.

Interdependence conflicts can often be easily overcome by ensuring that:

  • people have a good handle on delegation skills (yes you can delegate across and up, not just down);
  • that people are well trained in how to have challenging conversations,
  • that consequences (natural and imposed) are used (for example the sales person who is late with his or her input could have a bonus reduction).

Access "How to Delegate So You Get It Done, Done Well, Done On Time" to fine-tune your delegation skills (Take the quiz on this page to test your delegation capability).

Interdependence conflicts are less likely to look like personality conflicts, whereas the next three can, and do, regularly look like personality conflicts ...

2. Differences in Style.

People's preferred way for getting a job done can differ. For example, one person may just want to get the work done quickly (task oriented), while another is more concerned about making sure that everyone has a say in how the work gets done (people oriented).

You can hose down a lot of potential conflict when you have been trained in how to understand, and successfully navigate your way through style differences, (and make no mistake, style differences often lead to personality conflicts).

An Example Of A Style Conflict That Was Fast Looking Like A Personality Conflict

Recently I was coaching a client who was complaining about a colleague, who had taken 5 minutes to run his eyes over her report (that she had spent 20 hours compiling), and then immediately started pointing out to her things that she hadn't got quite right.

Talk about angry!

She said to me, 'How dare he glance over it for 5 minutes and then provide an opinion on it. He hardly has enough background to make such broad sweeping judgments. He IS impossible, and I'm just going to have to tell my boss that I just cannot work with him'.

I reminded her of the DISC webinar, she had recently attended with me, and she 'got' straight away that this was a 'style' conflict.

Her preferred style (Steadiness), likes time to think things through before making a well considered comment and/or decision. His preferred style (Dominating), means he makes fast decisions and offers opinions freely. Once we had taken it back to differences in style, she clearly saw a way to discuss with him his response to her work, and how they could use each other's styles to work more effectively together.

3. Differences in Background/Gender

Conflicts can arise between people because of differences in age, educational backgrounds, personal experiences, ethnic heritage, gender and political preferences. Listen to an interview I did with Barbara Annis on gender diversity and inclusiveness.. There are some great tips in the interview to help you make the most of gender differences.

4. Differences in Leadership Style

Leaders have different ways of leading their teams. Team members who have to deal with different leaders throughout a day, can become confused and irritated by these different ways of being led. For example, one leader may be more open and inclusive, whilst another may be more directive.

To avoid this type of disruption make sure that your leadership team have put together a solid set of principles and values that are used to provide consistency in how decisions are made, and how people are involved in the business.

5. Personality Clashes.

These types of conflict in the workplace are often ignited by emotions and perceptions about somebody else's motives and character. For example, a team leader jumps on someone for being late, because she views the team member as being lazy and disrespectful. The team member sees the team leader as out to 'get' him because he isn't one of the 'favored children'.

How To Handle Personality Clashes

Here is possibly one of the most important principles to follow, if you want to successfully resolve any personality conflict you find yourself caught up in... You Must Identify The Story You've Got Going On.

If you want to learn all seven principles, to help resolve workplace conflict download Successful Feedback.


If you want to avoid blame and emotional explosions
You Must Identify the Story You've Got Going On

There are two types of stories you can tell yourself.

One story puts a figurative halo over your head, and enables you to justify to yourself why you have behaved poorly, and makes you look the innocent/injured party.

The second type of story, is the one you tell yourself about others. This story causes you to place figurative devil horns on the heads of others, and has you labeling them in a negative fashion, placing you in a downward spiral of ill feeling and bad temper toward them.

Angel Devil2

Here are a few examples how this might look:

Situation/Scenario Story You Tell
Someone lets you down and it's not the first time. They are irresponsible and unreliable
You let someone down and it's not the first time. It's because you've been overworked recently.
Someone cuts you off while driving They are rude, aggressive, and inconsiderate.
You cut someone off while you are driving It's because you are in a hurry, and if you don't catch these lights you'll miss your doctor's appointment
One of your peers (whom you don't like) buys the boss a birthday card It's because they are soft-soaping the boss and trying to weasel their way in for a promotion.
You buy your boss a birthday card It's because you are warm and caring.
Someone flies into a rage at the post office clerk They are bad-tempered
You fly into a rage at the post office clerk It's because you're tired, and this is the 3rd time you've been here, trying to resolve the problem, and the post office keeps making the same mistake... which is costing you money

Sometimes your stories are accurate, but more often than not they are either inaccurate, or incomplete, or just completely wrong.

The truth is often somewhere in between the story you've told yourself, about why the other person is acting 'that' way, and the actual facts.

Identifying your story is important for three reasons:

  1. It ensures you don't over-react to a situation
  2. You open yourself up to the possibility of holding a healthy discussion ... rather than ambushing the other person with your emotions
  3. You begin to sift fact from story.

Use this Exercise to Sift Story from Fact

Think of a conflict you have with someone at the moment. Grab a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. In the left hand column, write down all the stories you are telling yourself about the person. All the feelings, thoughts, judgments, labels, conclusions that are running through your head.

In the right hand column write down all the actual facts. Facts are observable, objective, specific actions and information.

To differentiate between fact and story -- keep this example in mind: 'The sky is blue', is a fact. 'The sky is a beautiful color' is a story!

Facts From Story

As you look at your list, you may find that the story you have been telling yourself, is not fully supported by all the facts. That you have made many assumptions and interpretations, about what the other person's behavior MIGHT mean! (Check out the FAIR Grid to help you identify when you are making assumptions)

Next, write down how your reactions, or actions (or inactions), might have contributed to the situation.

Have you ever heard the saying, "We judge others by their actions, but ourselves by our intentions"? You don't truly know what the other person's intentions are, without asking.

This exercise is not designed to stop you from talking with the other person, about the problems you are having with him or her.

Its purpose, is to help you wash down any over-heated emotions you may have running riot through your body, and help you to become a bit more objective about the situation. Then, you will be more likely to hold the conversation, with less accusation and more curiosity.

In "Successful Feedback" you learn that your number one goal in any type of conflict is to discover the truth. Identifying your story, is one sure step in enabling you to achieve this goal.

Why Being Top-Notch At Handling The Different Types of Conflict In The Workplace Is Important

No matter the types of conflict in the workplace, ignoring them and hoping they will go away, is going to cost you. Possibly cost you quite dearly.

If you are a leader in the business it is going to cost you in terms of:

  • Wasted time listening to people's complaints
  • You complaining to others about how tough you've got it (which no leader worth his or her salt should ever do!)
  • Lost productivity as people spend more time worrying about the conflict, than the organizational goals,
  • Absenteeism,
  • Health claims,
  • People withdrawing emotionally,
  • Employee turnover,
  • Aggression and at times even violence.

If you are involved in the conflict, you may feel these types of emotions: discontent, miserableness, distress, frustration, and resentment. Unfortunately, generally, most people are not good at leaving these feelings at work at quitting time, so they trundle along home with them, impacting on, and often causing conflict and tension on the home-front as well.

Is it a luxury to spend money on teaching people how to resolve conflict? Absolutely not. High performance organizations are very aware of the need to train people in the 'soft' skills and spend significant portions of their budget on developing people's social skills.

When you and your people, learn and master the skills to deal with any type of conflict in the workplace, you will be far happier and far more productive.

The beautiful thing is that this type of training is a gift that keeps on giving - not only in the workplace but into the wider community. Sadly most people never truly learn the art of resolving differences and turning them into successful conversations; which can trap them in a life of angst, negativity and bitterness.

You may also like to watch this fast 5 minute video, which contains tips on how to minimize conflict in the workplace, along with information about the resources you can access at the Make A Dent Club that will help you improve your skills in this area. Click on the play button just below here.

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