Types of Conflict in the Workplace

Here are five most common types of conflict in the workplace. Along with two tips for dealing with the most common (and complex)... personality conflicts at work

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

However, there are four other ways conflicts arise at work that are worthy of mentioning before we take a more in-depth look at one of the ways you can minimize the negative impact of personality clashes.

1. Interdependence Conflicts

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

Interdependence conflicts can often be 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 salesperson who is late with his or her input could have a bonus reduction (imposed).

 Take the quiz on this page to test your delegation capability.

Then, if you find you need to fine-tune your skills in this area access "How to Delegate So You Get It Done, Done Well, Done On Time" program. Delegation is one of the skills that all high-performance 'rockstar' leaders master.

2. Differences in Styles

Conflict often happens because people have differing preferences on how to get things done. For example, one person may want to get the work done quickly (task oriented) and get on to the next thing as fast as possible. While another person 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 conflicts when you are trained in how to understand, and successfully navigate your way through style differences, (and make no mistake, style differences generally lead to personality conflicts).

Here's 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 way more 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! I'm going to have to tell my boss that I just cannot work with him'.

After hearing this, I reminded her of the DISC webinar, she had recently attended with me. She 'got' it straight away. This was a 'style' conflict.

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

3. Differences in Background/

Conflicts can arise between people because of differences in age, educational backgrounds, personal experiences, ethnic heritage, gender, and political preferences. Here's 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 various 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, while another may be more directive.

To avoid this type of disruption make sure that your leadership team puts together a robust set of principles and values. Then, most importantly, they use them to provide consistency in how they make decisions, and involve people in the business.

5. Personality Clashes

Personality clashes are often the biggest cause of conflict in the workplace.

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 essential principles to follow; if you want to resolve any personality conflict successfully. You Must Identify The Story You've Got Going On.

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

Hot Tip

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. You begin to negatively label them. This puts you in a downward spiral of ill feeling and lousy temper toward them.

Here are a few examples of how this might look:

Situation/ Scenario

The Story You Tell Yourself

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 I'm overworked.

Can you see how in the first scenario you label and blame? Whereas in the second you justify?

Someone cuts you off while driving.

They are rude, aggressive, and inconsiderate.

You cut someone off while you are driving.

It's because I'm  in a hurry, and if I don't catch these lights I'll miss my 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 I am 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 I'm tired, and this is the 3rd time I've been here trying to resolve the problem. The post office keeps making the same mistake... which is costing me 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 facts.

Identifying your story is vital 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 facts. Facts are observable, objective, with 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!

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)

Once you've sifted fact from story, next, write down how your reactions, your actions (or inactions), might have contributed to the situation.

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. To 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. I'm always recommending to my clients to 'come from a place of curiosity' when they are in conflict.

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

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 positive 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 emotions like: discontent, miserableness, distress, frustration, and resentment.

Moreover, here's why this is significant to you. Generally, most people are not good at leaving these feelings at work at quitting time. They trundle along home with that tension and frustration. And, as you and I both know this often causes conflict and pressure on the home-front as well.

In Summary

Is it a luxury to spend money teaching people how to resolve conflict? Absolutely not. High-performance organizations are very aware of the need to train people in the 'soft' skills. They 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 learn the art of resolving differences and turning them into effective conversations. This can trap them in a life of angst, negativity, and bitterness. I'm sure you want more for yourself and your team than that!

We've been helping organizations shift from performing to high-performing for over 18 years. So, if you want to move from surviving to being seen as rockstars of your industry, then explore the various options to work more deeply with us.

Our mission is simply about helping you and your team to live, love, and lead remarkably.

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