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What Employers are Missing When It Comes to Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

Workplaces are no strangers to conflicts. With so many different backgrounds, beliefs, and personalities coming together in one place, colleagues are bound to have disagreements—and as a result, even minor workplace disputes can have significant impacts on productivity, employee morale, and overall team cohesion. 

But it’s not the presence of conflicts that defines a company’s culture—it’s how the organization resolves them. 

Effective conflict resolution skills are essential for a healthy, thriving workforce—especially for HR teams and company leaders. To help you navigate employee relations, improve conflict management capabilities, and create a positive work environment, we’ll explore how common workplace disagreements start, how to work through them equitably, and what you can do to foster healthy team camaraderie and collaboration.

How Do Conflicts Start in the Workplace?

Work conflicts can emerge from the most unexpected corners, often simmering silently before escalating into noticeable disagreements. But understanding how they originate is critical for addressing them effectively.

At their core, team conflicts are usually the result of differences that haven’t effectively been managed or resolved. Whether they’re contrasting opinions, objectives, or workstyles, these differences can either lead to diverse, innovative thinking or friction if left unresolved.

Competition can also play a role. As teams and employees vie for resources, recognition, or advancement opportunities, a hyper-competitive mindset can sow seeds of discord among colleagues, quickly leading to a toxic work environment.

However, for organizations to address these underlying issues, it’s important to first understand which kind of conflict situations are occuring. 

Types of Conflicts

1. Interpersonal

This first type of conflict is perhaps the most common, occurring between two or more individuals. Often fueled by clashing personalities, communication styles, or values, interpersonal conflicts can quickly erode team cohesion, creating a toxic work environment.

Effective communication, empathy, and mutual respect are key to resolving this kind of dispute, fostering a culture where differing viewpoints can exist harmoniously and contribute to a more innovative and successful environment.

2. Intragroup

Similar to interpersonal conflicts, intragroup disputes happen between one or more individuals within a single team or group. These disagreements usually stem from specific tasks, roles, or decision-making processes, and they can be particularly disruptive, as they impact the group’s ability to work together and achieve a common goal.

Managing conflicts within a group often involves creating an open dialogue, clarifying roles and expectations, and ensuring all team members feel heard and valued. By fostering a culture of collaboration and mutual respect, employees can overcome any team conflict before it impacts their cohesion or productivity.

3. Intergroup

When a disagreement happens between two different teams or departments within an organization, it’s known as an intragroup conflict. Often the result of misaligned goals, toxic competition, or differing priorities, this form of conflict can lead to a silo mentality, where groups work in isolation or even at odds with one another.

Bridging the gap between conflicting groups requires strategic communication and negotiation skills to keep everyone aligned on a common goal. By promoting interdepartmental collaboration and understanding, leaders can mitigate these intergroup disputes to drive everyone toward a shared vision.

4. Intrapersonal

Finally, intrapersonal conflicts involve only one person. These “internal conflicts” often arise when an employee’s own beliefs, ideas, or feelings are in contrast with professional demands or expectations. This discordance can lead to stress, decreased productivity, and even burnout if left unaddressed.

Recognizing and addressing these intrapersonal conflicts is crucial for maintaining mental wellbeing in the workplace and ensuring employees feel aligned with the company’s goals and values. However, they don’t always share the same causes as conflicts between multiple people.

Common Causes of Workplace Conflicts

Understanding the root causes of interpersonal and team issues is crucial for workplace conflict resolution and developing effective mitigation strategies.

Here are a few common triggers that can lead to disagreements among workforces:

Communication Gaps

One of the most common causes of workplace conflicts is the dreaded communication gap. When information isn’t clearly shared or interpreted, misunderstandings and miscommunications are inevitable. Not only does this lead to frustration and conflict, but repeated missteps can seriously hinder an organization’s success. 

Personality Clashes

Perhaps equally prevalent as communication gaps are clashes between personalities. With a diverse mix of opinions, perspectives, and communication styles, the workplace is ripe for personality conflicts—especially when individuals find it difficult to adapt or compromise. While these differences can be a source of strength, they can also lead to misunderstandings, frustration, and strained relationships among team members. 

Toxic Competition

Employees tend to have a natural drive to succeed and excel in their positions. But when that drive shifts from a healthy motivational tool into a disregard for others, it morphs into toxic competition, where individuals prioritize their personal success at the expense of collective achievement. This kind of environment not only fuels conflicts but also fosters a culture of fear, secrecy, and mistrust.

Differences in Values or Goals

Whether it’s misalignment between an employee’s beliefs and the company’s direction, two team members, or the goals of opposing departments, differing values and objectives are commonplace in the workplace. These disparities can lead to frustration, reduced motivation, and disconnection between individuals. 


The Cost of Unresolved Conflicts

Workplace disputes are nothing new, but research suggests that employee conflict could be on the rise as of late. 

According to research from the Myers-Briggs Company, over one-third of employees report frequent work conflicts in the past two years—which is up 7% since 2008. And what’s worse, nearly a quarter believe their leaders aren’t effectively managing workplace conflicts.

When clashes between people or teams are left unchecked, they become a huge liability for companies, leading to decreased employee engagement, increased turnover, and even potential legal issues. As a result, unresolved conflicts can even impact the bottom line, costing businesses nearly $359 billion annually.

So how can employers triage the bleeding and strengthen their leadership skills to mitigate and resolve future conflicts?

How to Resolve Workplace Conflicts

Conflict resolution training is a great way for leaders and employees to develop and hone their interpersonal skills—but it’s not the only tool in an employer’s toolkit, nor should it be. Resolving workplace conflicts requires a strategic, multifaceted approach, grounded in understanding and mutual respect.

The first step is acknowledging the dispute openly, allowing all involved parties to express their perspectives and feelings in a safe environment. In some cases, individuals might not even realize they’re in conflict with another colleague, or the person who spoke up might not be able to identify the root cause. Therefore, it’s crucial to start by working toward a mutual understanding of the situation. 

For a productive conversation, leaders can facilitate these discussions as a neutral third party—not only to ensure fair treatment but also to understand both sides of the story. Once everyone has expressed their thoughts and feelings about the issue at hand, colleagues can work together to come up with solutions that address all concerns. Remember that the goal shouldn’t be to “win” an argument, but to find a resolution that benefits everyone through compromise and flexibility.

As organizations work on developing and implementing structured problem-solving processes, it’s important to keep these essential steps in mind:

1. Maintain Open Communication

Open, honest dialogue is the lifeblood of effective conflict resolution, and leaders play a crucial role in it. 

By making themselves accessible, actively listening, and responding to feedback constructively, leaders can foster a culture where employees feel safe and encouraged to express their thoughts, concerns, and feelings without fear of repercussion or reprisal.

When communication channels remain open, employees can quickly address misunderstandings and find solutions before minor issues escalate into major conflicts. Moreover, regular check-ins and feedback sessions can help prevent potential disagreements by ensuring everyone is aligned from the outset.

2. Demonstrate Empathy and Understanding

In addition to open communication, organizations must emphasize empathy and mutual respect. These qualities are essential for resolving disagreements, and without them, communication can quickly devolve into conflict.

This requires colleagues to take a moment and think about the issue from the other person’s perspective, accounting for their thoughts and feelings. While they don’t necessarily have to agree with each other, actively listening and acknowledging both viewpoints as valid allows everyone to feel heard. 

3. Find Common Ground

It’s one thing for individuals to understand where others are coming from, but it’s another for them to find common ground. However, this is a pivotal step in the conflict resolution process, serving as the foundation for a mutually beneficial agreement and professional relationship.

By concentrating on shared interests or goals that can serve as the starting point for an open dialogue, colleagues can move toward a resolution built on mutual understanding, respect, and collaboration.

4. Be an Impartial Moderator

As leaders step in to help resolve conflicts, it’s crucial that they recognize their role in the power dynamic at play and avoid favoring “sides.” Becoming a neutral third party who guides the discussion can ensure that everyone has their voice heard and valued.

When taking on the role of the moderator, leaders must remain objective, focusing on the conflict resolution process rather than the content of the dispute. This impartiality helps maintain trust and ensure an equitable outcome for everyone.

5. Collaborate on Problem Solving

Collaborative problem-solving is an essential stage that transitions colleagues from an adversarial position to a cooperative approach, where all parties work together to develop a solution that addresses the needs and concerns of everyone involved. Here, individuals must be open with each other, willing to compromise, and creative in their problem-solving capabilities.


Laying the Groundwork for Effective Conflict Resolution

Ultimately, resolving conflicts in the workplace strengthens workforce relations, builds trust, and enhances team cohesion. By nurturing an inclusive environment that encourages transparent communication, respects and integrates diverse values, and focuses on common goals, organizations can help manage and minimize common disputes, driving collective success.

But resolving workplace conflicts is just one piece of the puzzle. To dive deeper into how you can improve workplace wellbeing and build a positive culture, check out these six must-have features for your corporate wellness program.

For more information on how leaders can improve their conflict resolution skills, contact our experts here at WellRight.

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