The modern workplace has evolved in an attempt to control conflicts in a group of people working together for a common purpose – whether that purpose is selling office supplies, or building a skyscraper, or producing goods in a factory, or the work of a government department.
Whenever any group of people gets together there is the potential for some level of conflict.
Conflict is part of the way that any group of people gets things done.
And although uncontrolled conflict can be destructive, constructive conflict in the workplace can provoke change and adaption.
If you do get involved in conflict in the workplace, you can read here about ways to prevent that conflict getting out of control, and ways to resolve conflicts in the workplace.
If you find yourself involved in a serious conflict in the workplace that threatens your job then you may be able to get help from outside groups, such as trade unions, mediation services, and government departments.
In many countries, conflicts in the workplace can be formally resolved in specialized labor courts and tribunals
What You Will Find on this Page About Conflict in the Workplace:
You can learn how the modern workplace actually a social adaption DESIGNED TO CONTROL THE CONFLICTS [LINK] that can be expected to occur when people have to work together. You can also read about how those checks and balances on conflict in the workplace don’t always work as well as they should.
The best defense against conflict in the workplace is to be prepared for it, so you can learn later on this page about some of the different TYPES OF CONFLICT IN THE WORKPLACE [LINK], as well as some common solutions.
And in the final section of this page, you can read some basic steps for RESOLVING CONFLICT IN THE WORKPLACE [LINK], and where you may be able to get help with conflict in the workplace. [LINK]
You can read more about CONFLICT RESOLUTION STRATEGIES [LINK] and CONFLICT IN THE WORKPLACE [LINK] on the homepage of this website, as well as tips and techniques for HOW TO RESOLVE CONFLICT [LINK] on another page of this website.
Conflict in the Workplace PART I: Conflict in the Modern Workplace
A modern workplace embodies many strategies for controlling conflict.
To harness the effort of people working together, a modern workplace embodies strategies for controlling conflict between the people who work there.
At a minimum, each workplace establishes certain rules of conduct, and sets out everyone’s duties and responsibilities. These are mostly just simple things: please be on time for work; please work safely; customers please stay on this side of the counter, for example.
Workplace rules also need to consider other people who have relationships with the workplace, such as vendors, customers, clients, suppliers, off-site staff, government officials, and trade union representatives.
Large workplaces now often have full conflict resolution procedures in places, handled by specialist human resources staff who have training in workplace conflict resolution.
Today the labor laws of many countries also require certain standards of conflict resolution in workplaces. These often include things like receiving fair treatment before being sacked as the result of a conflict, the right to trade union representation in a dispute, and the right to formally lodge a complaint about any conflict in the workplace in an industrial tribunal or labor court.
But the modern workplace is an imperfect solution to the problem of controlling conflict.
Despite its many adaptions, the modern workplace setting is a fertile breeding ground for conflicts – some of them creative and fruitful, but often negative, personal and disruptive.
Conflicts can occur between co-workers, between workers and their managers, or between staff at a business and its customers, for example.
And that’s to be expected – most workplaces are made up of many different people, each with different points of view and different ideas about how things should be done.
People are often under pressure in the modern workplace.
They may feel stressed that they have to perform well, or work longer hours, or put up with less than ideal working conditions and pay.
Everyone also brings their outside stresses with them to work: they may have problems with their families or finances that affect their performance.
Many organizations, too, have to deal with structural conflicts with their finances or resources that can cause poor morale and harm productivity in the workplace.
There will be always be straightforward personal conflict in the workplace, such as co-workers who just don’t like each other, and who respond to each other with hostility.
There are also those co-workers who like each other so much that they enjoy an office romance – and maybe then break-up, but have to keep working together.
Surveys have found that office romances are a (perhaps unsurprisingly) common source of conflicts in the workplace.
The Workplace can be a battlefield.
One of the big reasons that workplaces are so prone to conflicts is because almost every modern workplace is rigged opportunities for dispute and potential threats.
Conflict occurs when people feel threatened in some way: a dispute can spark a conflict if people start to think their job security threatened, for example, along with their income and livelihood.
Or some people might feel the issues in a dispute threaten their status in the workplace, and perhaps their chances of promotion and a higher income.
But conflict in the workplace can be managed, on both a personal and organizational level
Forearmed is forewarned: because you can expect conflict to occur in every workplace at some time, you can anticipate conflict and prepare to deal with it effectively.
The better you understand how conflict develops and for what reasons, the better prepared you will be when conflict happens, as it inevitably will.
Learning about the causes of conflict can help you recognize it when it happens, and to deal with conflict before it gets worse.
Learning about some of the common solutions to conflict in the workplace can help you to deal with conflict you encounter on a personal level, and to contribute to effective solutions as part of a team of people dealing with conflict in the workplace.
Workplaces and the people who work in them can benefit from well-managed conflict.
Conflict is an important part of the process of trying out new ideas, and is part of the way that a business adapts to its marketplace, or a government department matches its responsibilities to its budget.
Conflict in the workplace can be managed to reduce its harmful and destructive effects. Many of the world’s largest commercial companies have implemented programs of “Conflict Management” to encourage creative conflict in their workplaces, while trying to control any potentially negative effects.
You can read more about CONFLICT MANAGEMENT [LINK] on the homepage of this website.
Conflict in the Workplace – PART II – Types of Conflict in the Workplace
No two conflicts are the same: they always unique to the people involved and the circumstances of the particular dispute.
As a result, dealing with them effectively calls for a certain amount of flexibility and adaption.
But while there is no ready-made solution to any particular conflict, many conflicts share common features that can indicate some common solutions.
List of Common Types of conflict in the Workplace
Some of the common types of conflict in the workplace include:
• Structural conflicts – conflicts about authority, organization, management, duties and responsibilities
• Resource conflicts – conflicts about limitations on scarce resources, especially money and time
• Data conflicts – conflicts about information, communications, accurate data, gossip and rumor
• Relationship Conflicts – personality clashes, conflicts of style, personal feuds, office romances gone wrong
The following sections look at some of these types of conflict in the workplace, and some common solutions.
You can read more in detail about the DIFFERENT TYPES OF CONFLICT [LINK] on another page of this website.
Conflict in the Workplace: Conflicts of Authority and Responsibility (Structural Conflicts)
Many workplace conflicts happen when it is not clear who has responsibility for a particular task. Two people may think they have authority over the same task, for example, and argue about how a particular task should be done. Or someone might mistakenly neglect a task that they should take responsibility for, thinking that it is someone else’s problem.
Conflicts over issues of authority and responsibilities in a workplace are a type of structural conflict [LINK]. They are caused by factors within the structure of an organization, including any failings of its management structure. Structural conflict can also happen when someone must carry out a task but does not have enough authority to complete it.
Conflicts over different duties and responsibilities are best dealt with by establishing clearly-defined responsibilities for each employee, and clear chains of command where they are needed. These should be detailed in written job-descriptions for each member of staff, so that everyone understands what has been agreed.
Conflict in the Workplace: Interdependency Conflicts (Structural Conflicts)
Interdependency conflicts are another common type of structural conflict [LINK] in the workplace. Interdependency conflicts can happen when one employee relies on another’s co-operation or output to get their own work done.
For example, someone who is late supplying a weekly report on sales figures might cause delays in the work of some of their colleagues who need that report to complete their own work. Regular delays in supplying the sales figures on time could lead to a dispute that could develop into a type of interdependency conflict.
These days workers in many workplaces are called on to work in large teams and to interact with more and more people. This makes us even more reliant on the co-operation and assistance of other people, which increases the chances of encountering interdependency conflicts.
Teamwork on a large scale requires that all the people involved try to respect each other’s points of view and different ways of working.
Effective teamwork also calls for an understanding of how conflicts occur, and how they can be dealt with effectively.
Conflict in the Workplace: Limitations on Resources (Resource Conflicts)
Conflicts over limits or restrictions on important resources, such as time or money, are known as resource conflicts [LINK]. A resource conflict in the workplace could happen when people are asked to do more work, because there is not enough money to employ more people. Or resource conflicts between co-workers can arise over shortages of things like office equipment, supplies, or even working space.
Resource conflicts are best resolved by increasing the resources that are available, but that may not always be possible. Instead, try discussing the limitations on resources with the people who are affected, and perhaps find a way to redistribute the resources among those who need them to complete their allotted tasks. Including employees in the process of allocating resources will give them a better understanding of why those decision were made, which can help avert any conflicts.
Conflict in the Workplace: Office Politics (Structural and Resource Conflicts)
Office politics and power struggles are a common type of conflict in the workplace. They can combine features of structural conflicts [LINK] within the organization – which include disputes over who has what responsibilities and duties – with a type of resource conflict [LINK] over who controls the limited resources of political power within the workplace.
Many workplaces operate as a hierarchy, where only one person can be the boss at any particular level. As a result, there can be keen competition between co-workers to gain political advantage in the workplace, and to secure their place on the ladder of promotion. Struggles for political control and status within the workplace can include disputes about things like who should be involved in a prestigious work project, or who should get the corner office with the great view.
Individuals who fight for their personal goals in a workplace at the expense of their co-workers goals may justify their behavior as “getting ahead.” But they may be creating unnecessary conflict at the expense of workplace harmony. Encouraging staff to manage their workplace relationships effectively, and to fit their personal goals to the goals of their co-workers and the wider organization, can help reduce these kinds of conflicts.
Conflict in the Workplace: Poor Workplace Communications (Data Conflicts)
Poor workplace communications can create data conflicts [LINK], which involve disputes over information, facts and other data. Workplace gossip and rumors that can fuel conflicts and spread confusion also come under the heading of data conflicts.
Either people may not have the information they need to resolve disputes, or one group of people involved in a dispute may have different information about the matters of dispute than other people.
Poor workplace communications can lead to the spread of misinformation, sometimes in the form of rumors and gossip – creating an emotional sense of fear that can further fuel the conflict.
Data conflicts, such as workplace communication conflicts, usually have a “data solution” – which means they can be resolved by getting accurate information to everyone involved. The best data solution to poor workplace communications is usually to encourage open communications between co-workers, and between the management of a workplace and its employees.
Open workplace communications give employees the means they need to prevent ordinary disputes escalating into conflicts, and to deal effectively with conflict if they happen. Conflict resolution experts often cite improved communications between employees as the most important thing any workplace can do to help control conflict.
Conflict in the Workplace: Personality Clashes (Relationship Conflict)
Personality clashes between co-workers are a type of relationship conflict [LINK]. Often they are fueled by misinformation or wrong assumptions about another person’s motives and character. Or they can arise because of differences in social and ethnic backgrounds, or even political preferences.
Differences in working style can also fuel relationship conflicts in the workplace. Different people can approach the same job in different ways. Someone who is task-orientated, for example, may just want to get the work done quickly. But one of their colleagues may be more interested in taking more time and getting the job done to a high standard of workmanship. Both approaches may be valid, depending on the circumstances – but such differences lead to disputes.
Relationship conflicts are usually best dealt with by encouraging open communication between co-workers and establishing clear rules of mutual respect. It may not be possible to get people to like each other, but co-workers should be encouraged set any personal dislikes aside if they begin to disrupt the workplace.
Sometimes “personality clashes” have been used as a cover story for other types of conflict.
According to one survey, up to 85 percent of job dismissals in the United States were the result of “personality clashes.”
Some experts in conflict in the workplace have challenged that figure. They warned that many managers were prone to writing off almost any conflict as a “personality clash” – and opting simply to fire someone instead of dealing with the real issues causing the conflict in the workplace.
Sometimes workplace managers get into personality conflicts with members of their own staff, and some may even use their position to resolve such conflicts in their own favor. In these cases, seek help from a senior manager or the human resources department of your workplace. Trade union representatives and professional groups may also be able to offer advice in dealing with conflicts with managers.
CONFLICT IN THE WORKPLACE PART III HOW TO RESOLVE CONFLICT IN THE WORKPLACE
So the workplace setting is fertile breeding ground for conflicts, and with all these potential situations and perceived threats you can expect some sort of conflict in the workplace to happen, at some time or another. You might find yourself involved in a conflict with co-workers directly, or as part of a team, or in a dispute with the management of your workplace, or you may be a manager trying to resolve problems among your staff.
In all cases, the best defense in any sort of conflict is to be well prepared for it.
When it comes to resolving conflict, “forewarned is forearmed,” as a familiar saying goes: the better you understand how conflict develops and why, the better prepared you will be when conflict occurs, as it inevitably will.
It can help to
• Be able to recognize conflict for what it is
• Be aware of the common pitfalls and problems that arise from conflict
• Be familiar with different ways of resolving conflict effectively.
Learning CONFLICT RESOLUTION STRATEGIES [LINK] and CONFLICT RESOLUTION TECHNIQUES [LINK] can help you to deal with any conflict in the workplace you encounter on a personal level, and to contribute to effective solutions as part of a team of colleagues dealing with some sort of conflict in the workplace.
Conflict in the Workplace: Steps for Resolving Conflict in the Workplace
A process of conflict resolution can be relatively simple or very complex, depending on the particular situation of the conflict and who is involved. But an effective approach to almost any conflict resolution in the workplace could start with the following few steps:
1. Calm everyone down
2. Bring the people involved in the conflict together to discuss the situation. Ask everyone to describe what has been said and done.
3. Discuss potential solutions to the conflict. Ask the people involved how they think the conflict should be handled, and look for areas of agreement.
4. Agree and implement potential solutions
5. Repeat steps 1..5 as required
You can read a detailed set of STEPS TO CONFLICT RESOLUTION [LINK] on the HOW TO RESOLVE CONFLICT [LINK] page of this website.
Talking through a problem is almost always the first step in finding an appropriate resolution.
If you find yourself involved in a conflict in the workplace, or in a position to mediate in a workplace conflict, your first step should be to try to talk to all the people involved. Many conflicts in the workplace can be sorted out by simply having people talk and listen to each other. Poor workplace communications are the source of many conflicts in the workplace, and improved communications will usually be part of the solution. Often people just want to let off steam and have their say, and that alone can be enough to relieve the pressure of the conflict and put things in perspective.
If having a quiet word with the people involved in a conflict does not work, you could consider speaking to your workplace manager about the conflict. Many managers will welcome the opportunity to learn more about a conflict before it becomes serious and disruptive. But you should perhaps first give the people involved a chance to resolve any conflict themselves, before referring disputes to their managers.
If co-workers involved in a conflict in the workplace cannot agree on a resolution, the process of conflict resolution gets more complicated as workplace policy and procedures to control conflict start to come into play.
Many employers now have formal policies on conflict resolution that form part of the terms of employment for employees.
These could take the form of clauses in a workers’ contract, or as part of a collective work agreement negotiated by a trades union or professional association. In many workplaces, formal conflict resolution is the responsibility of the human resources department. In some workplaces there may be more complex processes of conflict resolution that involve working groups of staff and management who meet to find solutions to workplace problems.
A number of organizations now recognize the importance of conflict resolution in the workplace, and run programs of conflict resolution training for their managers and staff. The conflict resolution skills from these training programs can help an organization resolve staff conflicts effectively, and to turn conflicts to the advantage of the workplace.
The labor laws in many countries now establish rights to conflict resolution for people involved in conflicts in the workplace.
If you are experiencing a conflict in the workplace that has become serious enough to threaten your job, then it is time to consider getting outside help.
Your local trade unions, legal aid groups, government departments, ombudsman’s offices, libraries community centers and social charities will often be able to give you information about conflict resolution services that may be available in your region. Your local government representatives such as city councilors and members of parliament may also be able to help.
Trades union groups in particular usually offer support for employees caught up in workplace conflicts that have become serious enough to threaten their jobs. Help from government departments, legal aid groups and social charities may be available even when trade union membership is not available.
In general, it is important to act quickly to get help if you get involved in a workplace conflict that seriously threatens your job. If you do lose your job because of some sort of conflict and you think you may have been treated unfairly, in many countries you may only have a few months to lodge a formal complaint at a tribunal or in a labor court.
You can read more about CONFLICT IN THE WORKPLACE on the homepage of this website CONFLICT RESOLUTION STRATEGIES.
You can also read more tips and techniques to help resolve conflict in the workplace on the HOW TO RESOLVE CONFLICT on this website.
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