4 Examples of Conflict Situations in the Workplace

September 2, 2022by Valerie Dansereau

There are many different examples of conflict situations in the workplace. Conflicts at work can range from minor disagreements to dramatic blowups or outright hostility.  There are times when conflict is constructive and stimulates discussions and innovative ideas, but there are also times when conflict continues to intensify and spirals out of control if it isn’t addressed. When conflict isn’t resolved, it can lead to an uncomfortable work environment and may cause staff members to consider changing jobs.

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Different Workstyles

When people with different workstyles have to work closely together, there may be conflict about how tasks are approached or completed. A person who is a go-getter and wants to complete tasks quickly and efficiently may have a hard time collaborating with someone who is laid back and unmotivated to meet deadlines. Someone who is very organized and likes to plan ahead may have a hard time working with someone who is more impulsive or tackles tasks at the last minute. An individual who likes to focus on projects alone may clash with one who tries to work together for every aspect of a project.

Misunderstanding or Miscommunication

When people have had life experiences that are much different than those of their coworkers, it’s not uncommon for there to be misunderstandings. Conflicts triggered by generational differences or different cultural expectations can lead to confusion or misinterpreting what someone else says or does.

People may get angry with someone else because of something they think the other person said, and there are times when they simply misinterpreted what was said. A supervisor may need to get involved in this type of conflict to mediate. This allows those in conflict to express what’s on their mind without letting emotions boil over.

Bullying, Discrimination or Harassment

Bullying, discrimination and harassment are much more serious examples of conflict situations in the workplace. Complaints about discrimination or harassment may center around gender, age, disability, religion or national origin. If one staff member accuses another of this type of behavior, their claim needs to be taken seriously and investigated.  If an employee approaches you with a complaint, treat them with empathy and respect as you listen to them.

It’s usually a good idea to get your HR department involved in determining whether a line has been crossed or if a staff member’s behavior is affecting the rights of another. The company’s culture needs to clearly demonstrate that discrimination, harassment or bullying won’t be tolerated.

Power Struggles

Examples of conflict situations in the workplace often involve power struggles. This may be triggered by lack of clarity on who’s responsible for what. If you’re in a leadership role and recognize that staff members have disagreements that seem to be related to roles, you’ll need to get involved and clearly communicate roles and responsibilities.

A more subtle example of a power struggle may happen when one employee gets a promotion that others felt they were more qualified for. If a staff member feels they were unfairly passed over for a promotion, they may be hostile toward the individual who was promoted.

When you’re faced with any of these examples of conflict situations in the workplace or any other type of workplace conflict, ignoring the problem is rarely the best solution. It’s a good idea for anyone in a leadership role to take advantage of any opportunity to improve conflict resolution skills. If you feel you lack the skills or experience to effectively resolve disputes that come up at work, a great way to learn to deal with and resolve conflict in the workplace is to work with a mentor or coach.

Reach out to Pollack Peacebuilding Systems for information on workplace conflict coaching programs.

Valerie Dansereau

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