Types of conflict in the workplace: how to resolve and deal with internal staff issues

17/08/2023 | Santander Universidades

"Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships." This compelling phrase about teamwork was uttered by Michael Jordan, who knew all too well the importance of having a united team to achieve the objectives set. Hence, it comes as no surprise that a good atmosphere at work is the most important factor for 40% of staff, according to the Employee Measurement Index (IMEA), by Alares. 

However, building committed teams with no types of conflict in the workplace is complicated, given that we spend an average of 38.5 hours a week at work, as the Spanish National Institute for Statistics (INE) notes. It is inevitable for disagreements to regularly arise, so the resolution of different types of conflict in the workplace should be used preventively and proactively if a good atmosphere is to be achieved at work, thus increasing productivity and overall performance.

What are the different types of conflict in the workplace and what triggers them?

A workplace dispute is any type of problem that arises within a professional context and which is strictly related to work matters. It is important not to confuse genuine conflict with what may be a personal or emotional reaction.

Given that many types of conflict tend to arise in any workplace, having the skills to train staff in conflict resolution is highly valued by companies. Thus, employees can work together more efficiently, because they will be equipped to quickly identify solutions for any problems that develop. In fact, there are several reasons why conflicts might arise in the workplace:

  • A lack of resources, time or materials: companies' resources tend to be limited and are shared among employees based on varying and purely strategic criteria. However, when workers are unable to access the same resources as their colleagues, they may feel overlooked. 
  • Work pressure and stress: for example, according to the study Mental health in Spain, 40% of Spaniards believe that their mental health isn't great. This is due, among other factors, to salary issues, the huge pressure to which they are subjected, or a lack of any work-life balance.
  • Unequal division of tasks: at times there will be an excessive workload, and increasing numbers of employees are suffering from burnout. Staff feel undervalued and exhausted, leading to widespread discontent and resulting in different types of conflict in the workplace. 
  • Differences between staff and company values: hiring employees who don't share the same values as the company can lead to differences of opinion and cause workplace disputes. Likewise, each worker has their own perception of reality and working style, which can also trigger problems.
  • A lack of workplace conflict resolution policies: detecting any type of conflict in the workplace promptly and not giving it a chance to fester is essential for resolution. For this to happen, companies need to implement policies that allow them to detect issues and act quickly. Conversely, if these are not in place, the employees themselves will need to search for a solution, although this might prove problematic if they are unable to reach a mutual understanding.

Preventing different types of conflicts in the workplace

Although there is no magic formula to prevent the different types of conflict in the workplace, there are certain measures we can take to prevent them. Among the most notable steps that can be taken are:

  • Ensuring sound internal communications: it is vital to clarify the functions and tasks of each employee, how to perform these, and their deadlines. Additionally, internal communications founded on education and respect towards the proposals of others should be encouraged.  
  • Defining company policy: without a clear organogram indicating who performs each role, what each staff member's responsibilities are, and what objectives are to be met, it is likely that different types of conflict in the workplace will arise. 
  • Empathy: some 77% of employees would be willing to work longer hours in a more empathetic work environment, while 60% would accept a lower salary in exchange for greater empathy. If team members had this capacity and made an effort to put themselves in the shoes of others, the vast majority of conflicts in the workplace could be avoided. 
  • Creating a space for dialogue and negotiation: fostering spaces for dialogue, learning to negotiate, and putting the common interest before individual ones in order to reach agreements are all highly effective techniques to resolve many types of conflict in the workplace.
Resolución de conflictos laborales

How to approach workplace conflict resolution

Many types of conflict in the workplace can be foreseen if suitable measures are applied. However, others may also arise unexpectedly, making it difficult to act in time. In this scenario, the only option is to resolve the issue asap. To do so, it is essential to follow these steps:

  1. Detecting the conflict: the first step is to detect and understand what the problem is, why it has arisen and what the current state of play is. Prevention tools can help to detect matters more quickly.
  2. Identifying people: once all the details of the conflict are known, those people who are both directly and indirectly involved need to be identified. 
  3. Impartial mediation: before trying to find a solution, it is vital to listen impartially to the different versions given by the people involved. For this to happen, someone in a management position should mediate. 
  4. Negotiating: it is essential to create a negotiation space in which everyone can put forward their version of events, while ensuring respect and fostering a broader understanding of the issue.
  5. Solution: the goal should always be to identify which alternatives are available to solve the problem and reach a consensus that satisfies all parties, i.e., a win-win solution. Finding an effective way to resolve workplace disputes will prevent the problem from festering and thus exacerbating distrust and frustration.
  6. Evaluation: after finding a solution, it will be necessary to monitor and evaluate the process to check whether the problem has actually been resolved.

Examples of types of conflict in the workplace and possible resolutions

Examples of workplace conflicts abound at almost all companies. Learning to identify and resolve them is crucial to ensure the smooth functioning of organisations. 

Below, we outline some examples of typical conflict in the workplace and possible solutions:

Example 1: Poor communications

  • Problem: a lack of internal communications causes misunderstandings and an inefficient workflow, increasing confusion, a lack of teamwork, instability and difficulties in achieving objectives. 
  • Solution: encourage open communications, inviting all staff to respectfully share their opinions. To do this, you can implement effective communication channels, schedule regular meetings, or establish an anonymous feedback system.

Example 2: Discrimination and Harassment

  • Problem: some people may feel harassed or discriminated against within a team, either for purely work-based reasons or for ethnic, gender, religious factors, etc. 
  • Solution: establish clear policies against discrimination and harassment, as well as safe and confidential means of reporting, take disciplinary measures, and provide training in this area. 

Example 3: Uneven distribution of tasks

  • Problem: tasks are distributed unevenly among the members of a team. Those with a greater workload will feel overwhelmed as well as angry,  because their colleagues are not pulling their weight equally. 
  • Solution: the team leader should regularly review workloads and redistribute tasks as necessary, taking experience, skills, productivity and available time into account. Also, an active listening channel can be deployed to welcome feedback from employees.

Example 4: Ineffective leadership

  • Problem: many types of conflict in the workplace are caused by the lack of a leader able to manage the team. In such cases, disputes become entrenched and the workplace atmosphere turns increasingly toxic. 
  • Solution: affected leaders might undertake training in communications, emotional intelligence, team management, workplace conflict resolution and decision-making. They should also have the support of their superiors, as well as establishing an internal communications channel to improve rapport with their team.


Resolución de conflictos laborales

Workplace conflict resolution is now a central issue for companies that have noticed how statistics point to a better working atmosphere increasing the happiness and productivity of its employees. Prevention, mediation and, above all, training are undoubtedly the most powerful weapons to prevent any type of conflict in the workplace. 

Emotional intelligence, leadership, empathy, communications, decision-making and negotiating are some of the soft skills necessary for workplace conflict resolution, and in particular when managing a team.

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