Common Causes of Conflict in the Workplace and How to Address Them
Before we can effectively mediate a conflict, we need to identify the root cause behind it. Conflict can arise for many different reasons. Understanding the root cause rather than simply the symptom, can help us to choose the best strategy for resolving the conflict once and for all.
Psychologists Art Bell and Brett Hart identified eight common causes of workplace conflict in the early 2000s. The causes they identified are:
- Conflicting needs – if several individuals or groups need access to the same resources, conflict can arise. Try supporting those involved to work out how to get everything they need to do their jobs and how to negotiate or coordinate access to resources with others.
- Conflicting styles – everyone has different styles of working that suit them best. When contrasting styles, clash people can get very frustrated. Encourage your team to understand their own and others styles of working and natural role within a group using a model such as Belbin’s Leadership Roles or the Myers-Briggs Personality Test.
- Conflicting perceptions – people will interpret situations based on the information available to them and often come to conflicting conclusions. You can help to minimize this by cultivating open and effective communication around important or sensitive issues at work.
- Conflicting goals – individuals on different teams or even the same team may have different goals and priorities. When two different goals come up against each other, there can be conflict as the two sides hold different priorities. When setting goals, ensure that all perspectives are heard and then see how the different perspectives can contribute to a common goal. Not everyone will get their way, but ensuring that everyone is truly heard will go a long way in mitigating unnecessary conflict.
- Conflicting pressures – if someone is relying on a colleague for a piece of work or information in order to reach a deadline but the colleague in question is under pressure with a different deadline of their own, these two pressures can come into conflict and frustrations can arise. If schedules and deadlines are causing conflict, consider rescheduling tasks where possible to calm things down.
- Conflicting roles – sometimes, people are required to do a task outside of their usual responsibilities. This may mean they encroach on the role of another colleague and a territorial conflict may emerge over the task. A leader can help by making it very clear who is responsible for what and why this is so.
- Different personal values – in rare cases, a team member may be asked to undertake a task that conflicts with their personal values. Conflict can quickly arise when people feel their integrity is threatened. Avoid these situations by ensuring your policies are ethical and driven by the values of the company.
- Unpredictable policies – if deadlines or initiatives shift, or change occurs without adequate explanation, conflict can easily arise. Make sure that any changes are accompanied by adequate explanations and ensure consistent enforcement of new ways of working to avoid confusion.
Check out this video (2 min) which summarizes the 8 causes of conflict and how to use them to help with finding a resolution.