woman in a red shirt puts her head on her office desk and looks frustrated

The Importance of Mitigating Workplace Conflict Before It Arises

With so much emphasis on workplace conflict resolution, it’s important to take a step back and focus on what can be done to avoid conflict from arising in the first place. After all, prevention truly is the best medicine.

With that being said, we will explain the most common causes of workplace conflict while offering tips for proactively preventing office disputes.

The 5 Main Types of Workplace Disputes

Here are some examples of the most common types of workplace disputes:

  1. Resistance to Change. When significant, controversial changes take place.
  2. Leadership Conflict. When team members clash with upper management.
  3. Interdependence/Task-Based Conflict. When team members are reliant on others to complete certain tasks/projects.
  4. Creative Differences. Disagreements over project ideas/direction.
  5. Performance Issues. When an employee’s performance/conduct is called into question.

Why Does Workplace Conflict Arise?

While it can be as simple as people not getting along, there are some major aggravating factors that can lead to conflict in the workplace.

Poor communication amongst employees

Communication is the key to a successful workplace and office environment. When staff and management aren’t communicating well with one another, it opens the door for misunderstandings, unclear expectations, and a whole host of other issues. Whether it’s weekly or daily touchpoints, communicating your priorities and concerns, or improving email language, encouraging strong communication is one of the best ways to prevent workplace conflict.

Clashing personalities on a team

Part of the beauty of working in a team environment is that everyone has their own unique persona and a different perspective. However, this can also create challenges when these different personas start to clash and disagree. While it’s inevitable that some people may never get along, it’s important for there to be mutual respect for the team to succeed.

Encouraging your team to respect one another even during times of disagreement is crucial.

Different work styles and values

Every workplace presents the opportunity for conflict, but more importantly, the opportunity to learn and grow from conflict.

Just as employees have varying personalities that may clash from time to time, they also have different working styles and values. For example, one employee may have a different way of doing things, and another employee in the same department may be frustrated with those methods. Not accepting differences can certainly lead to conflict, which can result in a shift in harmony and productivity among your team. In addition, it can also lead to unhealthy competition that can further affect your team’s confidence, morale, and collaboration.

Unhealthy workplace competition

Speaking of unhealthy workplace competition – while some industries may encourage competition among its teams or operate in a model that directly correlates salary and benefits to production value, a workplace has the potential to experience immense competition among their teams. When not properly managed, it can result in significant issues like sabotage, insults, and a generally hostile, toxic work environment. Be aware of unhealthy competition as it negates collaboration, teamwork, and community and instead reinforces individualism and isolation.

Unclear job expectations

When expectations are not made clear, it sets your team up for failure, resulting in adverse feelings and reactions on both ends. Make sure that when new employees are hired, promotions are given, or a new project is started, everyone involved has their role clearly defined and explained to them, so there is no room for confusion.

Lack of good leadership in the workplace

Conflicts in the workplace are inevitable in the absence of good leadership. It’s critical that managers, supervisors, and the whole leadership team know their roles and responsibilities when it comes to managing and leading people within their organization and respectful departments.

Read more: The Uncomplicated Truth About Leadership

Toxic workplace culture

A trivial issue or minor inconvenience can grow into a serious conflict in a toxic work environment. Unhappy employees, lack of structure and psychological safety, and a general negative feeling towards the organization can lay the groundwork for bullying, abuse, hostility, and other aggravators.

Toxic work environments affect not only productivity and quality of work but also the mental health and overall wellbeing of employees. If management is aware of toxic workplace culture in their organization, it’s important that they pay special attention to what is causing issues in their culture and ways to transform it from toxic to positive in an organized, controlled, and effective way.

Read more: How to Manage Toxic Employees

Scarce resources and overwhelming workloads

When employees feel their workload is unmanageable or that they lack the sufficient resources to fulfil the responsibilities of their job effectively, they begin to feel pressure and resentment towards their work and leaders – this can easily spark conflict.

Conflicting team goals

When teams are divided into silos with separate sets of goals and little communication, it creates an ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality. Keeping your departments aligned and encouraging collaboration and open communication ensures that all teams are working together instead of separately, leading to more understanding and respect and less conflict.

Sudden change in the workplace

Sudden changes in the workplace, such as mergers and acquisitions, leadership changes, changes to company policy, and more, can make employees feel frustrated, especially if these changes are executed without proper notice and communication or without seeking feedback from the team.

To avoid upset feelings and overall discontent, make sure that when all major decisions are made, your staff are kept in the loop and are given a platform to express any questions or concerns they may have.

Resistance to change

Change within a process, department, or entire organization can cause stress and discomfort among certain individuals. People form habits, and when those habits are challenged, fear of the unknown can be difficult to embrace, particularly for those who naturally go through stages of denial, anger, and confusion at the sight of something new.

A team that is calm and open to the idea of change and growth will be significantly less likely to get involved in a change-related conflict.

To help guide your team through the process of change, consider these factors:

  • Be transparent about the reasons behind the change and communicate the plan clearly
  • Include your team in the process to let them know they are valued
  • If there are new responsibilities, distribute and train accordingly

Tips to Help You Manage Workplace Conflict

Address conflict head-on and swiftly

Nothing good will ever come from procrastinating conflict management. As with any conflict, it should be addressed and dealt with swiftly (but not hastily). Be calm, straightforward, and don’t let conflict linger – your team will not only respect you more, but your organization will be better equipped to handle these types of issues in the future.

Validate all employees feelings

People sometimes forget that we are emotional beings with unique ways of thinking and feeling. While we might not all get along, it’s important to validate the feelings of all parties involved. If people perceive their feelings as being invalid or rejected in the face of conflict, it will only make matters worse. By addressing the underlying emotions as their leader, you’re showing them you’re invested in their wellbeing and the resolution of the conflict.

Find the root cause of the issue

As you begin to hear each side of the story and acknowledge and validate individuals’ feelings, start by asking the right questions to bring the root cause of the issue to the surface. It’s best to let things cool down in a heated fight as tensions will be running high and can prolong the discussions that lead to resolution. Remember, your job is to narrow down the real problem and find a solution while balancing a calm environment.

Communicate often and with transparency

As we highlighted above, communication is the key to a successful workplace and office environment. That’s why one of the most common causes of conflict arises when there is either a lack of or poor communication.

Create a safe space where your team can communicate openly and without judgement so they may discuss their perspective of the conflict and gain new perspectives. As their leader, you should be actively listening to each person and work to understand their perspectives as it relates to the conflict at hand. As you find a resolution, openly discuss ideas and solutions to ensure that it doesn’t repeat in the future.

And remember, communication isn’t just important while combating conflict in the workplace; it’s an important tool intended to help foster a positive culture, collaboration, and job satisfaction daily.

Read more: Why Transparency Is Crucial for Company Culture

Consult a third-party mediator

Some conflicts can be damaging, costly, and harmful to the physical, emotional, and mental state of both parties and the organization, resulting in low morale, lack of motivation, loss of productivity, and increased costs in legal issues.

Mediation is one of many conflict resolution interventions that should be considered as soon as a moderate or complex dispute arises in the workplace.

Early intervention with a professional, skilled mediator ensures that there are no learning curves, trial and error, or compromise on the quality of the process. It is also a great way to address and resolve issues between parties before matters escalate into a more significant problem.

Read more: When HR Should Hire a Mediator to Resolve Workplace Conflict

Tips to Help You Prevent Workplace Conflict

Don’t avoid employee conflict

Conflict doesn’t go away if it’s ignored. On the contrary, it only festers into something more serious and harder to deal with. Dealing with conflict head on – as unpleasant as it may sometimes be – will be the difference between a thriving and dying business.

Foster a collaborative environment

When your teams feel that they can freely brainstorm and communicate with each other, it promotes collaboration. A team that collaborates will often have the ability to nip conflict in the bud as there is a foundation of trust, respect, and comfortability.

Have a formal complaint process

Whether conflict has gone on for too long or there has been a particularly egregious incident, employees may choose to file a formal complaint. It’s crucial that your organization has a formal process for complaints and that all employees are aware of this process. Every employee needs to feel comfortable in reporting adverse behaviour in their workplace and understand the significance of having these complaints written and submitted to the appropriate members of the organization. After all, the purpose of formal complaints is to investigate them appropriately and action them justly.

Read more: Tips for Handling Formal Employee Complaints

Read more: Formal Employee Complaints: What Not to Do

Treat everyone in the office fairly

Nepotism and favourites have no place in a functional workplace. Treat everyone fairly, no matter their job title, experience, or other differentiating factors. It’s important that members of leadership and management teams remain neutral so that they eliminate the chances of conflict among their teams.

Provide leadership and employees with training

All members of your organization should receive thorough training on fair employee practices, diversity, equity and inclusion, sexual harassment, and conflict management. Additionally, supervisors should go through specific training on how to conduct fair employee evaluations and bias and how it interferes with everyday interactions and the overall health of the organization.

Training is a great way to prevent conflict and misunderstandings about what is considered appropriate and inappropriate workplace behaviour. Furthermore, the equitable treatment of employees significantly lowers the potential for conflict.

Being in tune with how your team functions and interacts with one another and proactively correcting certain behaviours that are engrained in your culture is more effective than mitigating conflict after it occurs. In the end, it will result in a happier, more positive working environment.

If your organization is experiencing conflict, consulting with a neutral mediator will resolve distracting, challenging situations and empower all participants involved to settle on an agreeable solution and continue being productive within the organization.

At Global Mindful Solutions, we have established a process that aims to provide insightful, comprehensive solutions with a compassionate and unbiased approach. This allows all participants to focus on getting back to work and continue making a positive contribution to their organization while leading a fulfilling role in their careers.

Contact Global Mindful Solutions to get started with neutral, knowledgeable, and effective investigation, mediation, and facilitation services.


613-869-9130 | info@globalmindfulsolutions.com

343 Preston Street, Suite 1100, Ottawa, ON, K1S 1N4

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