I Hate Them: Sources Of Workplace Conflict And How To Avoid Them


Conflict is a natural occurrence for all living things on earth. It’s what drives evolution and what forces humankind to innovate. While many times our inherent desire is to avoid conflict, it’s essential that we aren’t just ignoring it, but actually taking the proper steps to eradicate it at the source before it begins. In the workplace, conflict can be a divisive occurrence that creates hostility and stifles innovation. It can affect worker morale and damage retention rates. Ultimately, it can even be so destructive that it affects revenues and damages profits.

It’s important for that reason that we look at the sources of workplace conflict and learn to recognize it before it even begins. If you can minimize the sources of the conflict, there’s a good chance you can avoid it altogether. If it’s too late for you and there’s already a lot of conflict at your workplace, check out this article that will explain how to deal with it after it happens. For those of us working in a conflict-free environment, here are a few common sources for workplace conflict and what you should do to avoid it.

Breakdown in Communication

Many conflicts can be solved by communicating effectively to one another. An overwhelmingly prevalent source of workplace conflict is derived from a breakdown in communication and misunderstandings that arise during a typical workday. In many instances you’ll find that employees want the same end goal but are just miscommunicating about how to achieve it. This creates a lack of trust and a feeling of hostility, when in reality both people could be more effective working together.

Being straightforward and direct is always the best when working with someone else. Many times we are inclined to keep things to ourselves, including times when a colleague or employee is under-performing. It’s best to confront issues as soon as they arise. You never want to be combative, but you also want to be clear on any concerns you may have early so that they don’t create serious problems for the project down the road. Be clear and concise with plans, especially if someone else is relying on your work and don’t be afraid of giving feedback, even if it is negative.

Interpersonal Relationships

Some people just don’t get along. Professionally, you’re likely to meet a number of people who don’t mesh well with your personality. That’s okay, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t work successfully together. Just because you wouldn’t want to share a beer with them, doesn’t mean that you can’t be productive on the same team.

It’s important as an employer to recognize employee relationships and allocate human capital on teams that make sense, like teams who will challenge one another but not be combative. As an employee, it’s important not to make any emotionally driven decisions while at the workplace. This can include things like complaining about another co-worker, spreading rumors about someone, or making decisions based on who you don’t like. This creates a hostile work environment for that person and could create serious problems in the future. Be rational and mature because it will only work in your benefit. Again, if you disagree, confront the problem head on.


External changes to an industry or internal changes to your organization – like an upgrade in a software system – may create a higher level of stress among employees. Those who are slow to adapt to these changes or that are used to old processes could create conflict because of added pressure and stress. The more employees who buy into this thought process means more conflict throughout the entire organization.

Change is a hard thing to predict, as an industry adapts to the consumer and not to your business. As an employee you can always try to embrace changes and improvements in current processes. Most of the time it means that your work will become more effective or efficient. Additionally, if you see someone else struggling with the changes, always offer your help because individuals make the organization and it could help you in your own career.

Conflict is inevitable in any organization. By recognizing it before it develops you are minimizing the impact it has on your job. It’s important that you do not ignore the conflict but address it head on. By acting rationally and understanding its sources you can stop conflict before it occurs. 


About Author

Garrett Ettinger is a writer and communication specialist who has worked in a variety of fields. He specializes in online writing and currently is the branding and communication coordinator at the non-profit ACTION United in Philadelphia, PA. He regularly advocates on issues involving unemployment, raising the wage, and education reform.

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