Workplace conflicts are relatively commonplace, regardless of the industry or situation. However, while these conflicts are often an unavoidable side effect of bringing people together, there are many ways to resolve them peacefully and productively. To help your team understand what it takes to spur conflict resolution management, let’s look at 8 workplace conflict examples and how they may be resolved.
Example #1: Personality Clashes
Sometimes, people just don’t get along with each other. Perhaps their personalities are not compatible, or maybe there are underlying issues at play, like racism or sexism. When this happens, it can be harder to pinpoint the precise problem without digging deeper and trying to understand both individuals and their perspectives.
These situations can sometimes be relatively mild, but they often will build and get worse over time until they’re addressed. In other cases, the clash may be substantially disruptive, forcing you to interject immediately to calm the situation down.
Potential Resolution: When two personalities clash, mediation is necessary to see if both parties can learn how to compromise and work together. That said, it’s crucial to get to the root of the problem before attempting to fix it. Having in-depth discussions with each party individually and together can help find the source of the conflict.
Example #2: Discrimination
Discrimination and harassment are significant forms of workplace conflict that can even lead to legal action. These conflicts often involve a manager and a subordinate, but they can also occur between co-workers. Also, some forms of discrimination are much less overt than others, making it harder to identify the specifics of the situation to address them.
Potential Resolution: Whenever a conflict could lead to a lawsuit, it’s critical to tread carefully to avoid complicating matters. It’s also imperative to take these accusations seriously, no matter how small they may seem at first. The faster you can mediate the situation, the smoother it will resolve. If necessary, sensitivity training or coaching might help the situation and prevent costly legal proceedings.
Example #3: Management Friction
Just as personalities can clash, workers may not get along with their managers because of their leadership style. Some managers are more autocratic than others, or they may not have excellent communication skills. This kind of conflict can be tricky to navigate because managers need to maintain respect and authority, but clashing with employees can lead to friction within the team.
Potential Resolution: Overall, managers need to maintain positive relationships with their employees, so extra management training may be necessary. However, if the worker is the source of the conflict, it may require mediation and potentially letting the employee go.
Example #4: Miscommunication or Misunderstanding
Communication is an essential component of any workplace as it ensures everyone stays on the same page and knows what to expect. However, unclear communication can lead to conflicts and other interpersonal problems. For example, if a manager’s instructions were unclear or if a deadline was not shared with the team, a project or task might not get completed correctly or on time.
Potential Resolution: Fortunately, this type of conflict is the easiest to resolve because it relies on effective and efficient communication methods. In this case, it’s critical to understand where these breakdowns are happening and what tools or strategies can help overcome them in the future.
Example #5: Cultural Differences or Misunderstandings
In today’s workforce, offices can have many employees from different backgrounds, nationalities, and cultures. Overall, having a more diverse workforce is a net positive for any business, but one unintentional side effect is that some of these differences can cause friction and eventually clashes between employees.
For example, let’s say that a group of workers start speaking to each other in another language. Other workers may feel alienated or shut out of the conversation, making them feel less engaged with their co-workers. In some cases, an employee may believe that others are speaking ill of them by speaking in a language they don’t understand. Feeling antagonized, that employee may file a complaint or confront one of the other workers during a conversation.
It’s also important to recognize that racial tensions and stereotypes are still common, especially within the workplace. While cultural sensitivity and racial discrimination training can help alleviate these problems, they often don’t fix the root of the issue. So, even a worker who has attended these training sessions may still harbor negative thoughts and feelings toward those from other cultures.
Potential Resolution: As a rule, racism and bigotry shouldn’t be tolerated in the workplace. So, if one employee is openly hostile toward others because of their ethnicity or background, it may be best to terminate their employment. However, if you believe both parties can resolve the conflict and create a more positive and inclusive work environment, you can try mediation.
Another issue to consider with these types of conflicts is whether they may open the company up to lawsuits and other legal actions. Also, the brand could suffer a backlash from the public if the details of the conflict are leaked. Overall, you need to tread carefully and assess all your options before moving forward with any of them. Chances are one potential outcome could alienate one group within your workforce, so you have to determine which actions will cause the least friction.
Example #6: Physical Altercation
Typically, workplace conflicts are verbal, meaning both sides argue and may even shout at each other. However, sometimes, these conflicts can become physically violent, leading to physical fighting. If this happens, your conflict resolution strategy has to adapt accordingly.
Physical altercations can lead to numerous secondary issues for the company. For example, a fight may break equipment or injure other co-workers who weren’t involved in the initial conflict. In this case, you have to consider how to proceed and whether individuals or the business itself should press charges.
Another potential problem could be if one or more people end up in the emergency room. Depending on the situation, the company may be on the hook for expensive medical bills or at least increased insurance premiums. Overall, one physical fight could create numerous headaches that are both tricky and time-consuming to resolve.
Potential Resolution: Typically, a physical fight is grounds for termination, regardless of the situation or who was involved. However, depending on what actually happened, you may need to implement multiple conflict resolution tactics to ensure long-term resolutions. For example, perhaps each party attends anger management courses or mediation sessions to ensure they won’t engage again in the future.
If other people were involved, you have to consider how the altercation affected them as well. For example, if an employee was injured, they may resign or threaten to resign if one or both of the involved parties continue to work at the office. Overall, this kind of conflict may create a tricky balancing act, so it’s best to develop management systems ahead of time so you have a plan of action should the worst happen.
Example #7: Absenteeism or Disengagement
These days, there’s a lot of attention regarding the concept of “quiet quitting.” If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it refers to workers who perform the bare minimum of tasks expected of them and don’t engage with the company at large. While it’s important for employees to set boundaries with employers, active disengagement can be bad for business, especially morale.
In some cases, this disengagement could lead to conflict between co-workers or an employee and supervisor. What makes the situation kind of complicated is whether the employee in question violated any rules or company guidelines. For example, if a worker is doing the bare minimum based on their job description, it’s hard to justify terminating them if they technically did nothing wrong. Similarly, if a supervisor starts a conflict with the employee based on their disengaged attitude, you may need to consider whether those actions were truly justified.
Potential Resolution: If one worker engages in “quiet quitting,” they are likely going to continue, regardless of any actions they may take. However, if multiple or a majority of employees are disengaging, the problem may be with the company’s expectations. In the case of a lone “absentee” employee, the best solution could be to communicate with the person to see what would make them invest more of themselves in the job. In the case of mass disengagement, it may be best to assess what the company demands and adjust those expectations according to employee needs.
Example #8: Customer Conflict or Altercation
Workplace conflicts are often between co-workers, but customers may get involved, too. This type of conflict is especially troubling because it may allow a customer to sue the company (and win). Even if the employee or manager was technically “right,” the ensuing legal action could be a huge problem for the business, regardless of the circumstances of the situation.
Potential Resolution: As a rule, if an employee engages in conflict with a customer, it results in immediate termination. However, some scenarios may force you to retain the worker and help them avoid such conflicts in the future. For example, if the customer was violent or aggressive, the worker may have been trying to de-escalate the situation. In this case, it might be best to train employees on how to handle these situations or tell them to avoid getting involved whenever possible.
If you’re interested in learning more about conflict resolution and communication training, let us help! We offer comprehensive services to make your team run more efficiently than ever!