There are eight common causes of conflict in the workplace, and you can use them to explore how you can manage conflict more effectively. The eight causes are:
- Conflicting resources.
- Conflicting styles.
- Conflicting perceptions.
- Conflicting goals.
- Conflicting pressures.
- Conflicting roles.
- Different personal values.
- Unpredictable policies.
You can use this classification to identify possible causes of conflict. Once you’ve identified them, you can take steps to prevent conflict happening in the first place, or you can tailor your conflict resolution strategy to fit the situation. Let’s take a closer look at each of the eight causes of workplace conflict and discuss what you can do to avoid and resolve each type.
1. Conflicting Resources
We all need access to certain resources – whether these are office supplies, help from colleagues, or even a meeting room – to do our jobs well. When more than one person or group needs access to a particular resource, conflict can occur. If people start battling for a resource, sit both parties down to discuss openly why their needs are at odds. An open discussion about the problem can help each party see the other’s perspective and become more empathetic about their needs.
2. Conflicting Styles
Everyone works differently, according to their individual needs and personalities. For instance, some people love the thrill of getting things done at the last minute, while others need the structure of strict deadlines to perform. However, when working styles clash, conflict can often occur. Become more accepting of other people’s styles of working, and to be more flexible as a result.
3. Conflicting Perceptions
All of us see the world through our own lens, and differences in perceptions of events can cause conflict, particularly where one person knows something that the other person doesn’t know but doesn’t realize this. If your team members regularly engage in “turf wars” or gossip, you might have a problem with conflicting perceptions. Additionally, negative performance reviews or customer complaints can also result from this type of conflict. Make an effort to eliminate this conflict by communicating openly with your team, even when you have to share bad news. The more information you share with your people, the less likely it is that they will come up with their own interpretations of events.
4. Conflicting Goals
Sometimes we have conflicting goals in our work. For instance, one of our managers might tell us that speed is the most important goal with customers. Another manager might say that in-depth, high-quality service is the top priority. It’s sometimes quite difficult to reconcile the two. Whenever you set goals for your team members, make sure that those goals don’t conflict with other goals set for that person, or set for other people.
5. Conflicting Pressures
We often have to depend on our colleagues to get our work done. However, what happens when you need a report from your colleague by noon, and he’s already preparing a different report for someone else by that same deadline? Conflicting pressures are similar to conflicting goals; the only difference is that conflicting pressures usually involve urgent tasks, while conflicting goals typically involve projects with longer timelines. If you suspect that people are experiencing conflict because of clashing short-term objectives, reschedule tasks and deadlines to relieve the pressure.
6. Conflicting Roles
Sometimes we have to perform a task that’s outside our normal role or responsibilities. If this causes us to step into someone else’s “territory,” then conflict and power struggles can occur. The same can happen in reverse – sometimes we may feel that a particular task should be completed by someone else. Conflicting roles are similar to conflicting perceptions. After all, one team member may view a task as his or her responsibility or territory. But when someone else comes in to take over that task, conflict occurs. If you suspect that team members are experiencing conflict over their roles, explain why you’ve assigned tasks or projects to each person. Your explanation could go a long way toward remedying the pressure.
7. Different Personal Values
Imagine that your boss has just asked you to perform a task that conflicts with your ethical standards. Do you do as your boss asks, or do you refuse? If you refuse, will you lose your boss’s trust, or even your job? When our work conflicts with our personal values like this, conflict can quickly arise. Try avoiding asking your team to do anything that clashes with their values, or with yours.
8. Unpredictable Policies
When rules and policies change at work and you don’t communicate that change clearly to your team, confusion and conflict can occur. In addition, if you fail to apply workplace policies consistently with members of your team, the disparity in treatment can also become a source of dissension. When rules and policies change, make sure that you communicate exactly what will be done differently and, more importantly, why the policy is changing. Once the rules are in place, strive to enforce them fairly and consistently.