4 Conflict Scenarios at Work

Published: December 19, 2022 | Last Updated: July 28, 2023by Kent McGroarty

Conflict can happen even at the happiest workplaces, resulting in tension and even productivity issues. To help you hone your conflict management skills, it helps to review common scenarios in various work environments. Below are some conflict scenarios at work to help your “management education.”

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Scenario #1: Lack of Communication

Communication issues can cause serious problems in the workplace. For example, say one employee always has their email open and gets back to coworkers, clients, affiliates, and suppliers quickly. Say another employee checks their email sporadically throughout the day, much to the chagrin of the first employee. The first team member constantly complains about the second team member, resulting in a blow-up the entire office witnessed.

Dealing with public arguments in the workplace is never fun, but mitigating them as soon as possible is the best course of action. It is your job to quickly and quietly diffuse the situation by suggesting that the issue needs to be discussed in private, such as an unused conference room. There, the employees can provide their respective perspectives and hopefully reach a resolution. The second employee could offer to keep their email open at all times during work hours, while the first employee could promise to refrain from “blowing up” in the future and instead talk about any problems in private.

Scenario #2: Uncomfortable Jokes

There are times in workplaces where everyone jokes around. Unfortunately, some team members might find the humor distasteful or downright offensive. When this happens, the workplace becomes an increasingly-tense place and employees might feel increasingly uncomfortable.

The Human Resources Department typically comes into play in this and similar situations, reminding everyone that the workplace is not the best environment for telling any joke that can be deemed offensive. If employees want to get together during off-hours and tell such jokes, they can at their own discretion. Should your workplace not have a designated HR department, you can still have training sessions or seminars about what is appropriate at work and what is not.

Scenario #3: Work Break Issues

Sometimes, employees get on each other’s nerves due to the breaks they take. For example, say one employee goes out for periodic smoke breaks, in addition to taking time for long lunches. The time they spend outdoors and away from their desks while smoking adds up to about 30 minutes per day. Non-smoking employees do not enjoy this extra time, which makes them perturbed because they are health-conscious and not getting “rewarded” for it. As a result, two or more employees have choice workers for the smoker, resulting in a workplace issue.

Conflict scenarios of this kind can be challenging to navigate, because you don’t want to tell someone to quit smoking, even if you think they should. Among the best ways to deal with such issues is to limit the number of smoke breaks per day and create longer lunch hours. If the smoking employee takes 20 minutes off per day to smoke, the other employees can have 20 minutes of leisure time per day.

If you do not want to provide your team with more free time simply because one employee chooses to smoke, you could establish a “no smoking during work hours” rule and provide literature about quitting. The non-smoking employees will especially appreciate this, especially those who work around the smoking employee. As a result, you won’t deal with “[X person] reeks of cigarettes” complaints any more.

These are just some of the conflict scenarios at work to be aware of! For more about conflict resolution, please contact Pollack Peacebuilding Systems today!

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Kent McGroarty