Resolving Dysfunctional Conflict in the Workplace

April 29, 2022by Valerie Dansereau

There are many reasons for conflict in the workplace, but not all conflict is bad. Friction between employees because of differences of opinion or different perspectives is known as functional conflict and it can lead to innovation and fresh ideas.  By contrast, workers involved in dysfunctional conflict in the workplace have strong differences of opinion, and instead of working through their differences, they begin to experience a breakdown in communication and growing animosity while conflict intensifies.

Functional conflict encourages a healthy exchange of ideas. It motivates employees to find a solution that can lead to more creativity and improved productivity. Dysfunctional conflict has the opposite effect. Productivity and morale decline, and this can impact not just the people directly involved in the conflict but everyone around them. If this type of conflict isn’t resolved, it can lead to dissatisfaction, absenteeism and staff turnover. Coworkers begin treating each other with mistrust and suspicion rather than as members of the same team.

Free Consultation for Workplace Conflict

What Causes Dysfunctional Conflict in the Workplace?

When it’s apparent that workplace conflict is intensifying rather than being resolved, the first thing to do is determine the cause of the conflict. Some things that can lead to dysfunctional conflict include:

  • Miscommunication
  • Power struggles
  • Incompatible goals
  • Personality differences
  • Cultural differences
  • Unconscious bias

Conflict can intensify when resources are scarce, such as staffing, money and supplies. At times, the underlying cause of the conflict is obvious but at other times, finding out what’s at the heart of the conflict may take some digging. Those in conflict because of personality differences may not even know why they can’t get along with each other.

Addressing Dysfunctional Conflict

It can be tempting to try to ignore conflict in the workplace and hope that the conflicting parties will eventually work things out. That’s rarely the best approach. In dysfunctional conflict, other workers are being subjected to a tense or hostile work environment. They may feel uneasy or unable to concentrate. Work quality is often affected.

Rather than ignoring the issue, leaders have to address the problem, which means confronting the workers involved in dysfunctional conflict and working toward finding a solution. Each should be allowed to tell their side of what is causing the problem, and they should refrain from interrupting each other. The leader takes on the role of mediator to help workers sort out their differences and aim toward finding a common ground.  This involves brainstorming solutions and encouraging both parties to state what they’re hoping to see happen. Work together to find a win-win solution in which each party gets some of what they want.

Continued Conflict

When efforts to resolve dysfunctional conflict in the workplace are unsuccessful, managers may have to have difficult conversations with staff members about behavior that’s unacceptable and won’t be tolerated. In some situations, conflicting individuals may have to be assigned to different projects where collaboration with each other isn’t necessary. Managers may also have to involve the HR department in mediation efforts or in disciplinary action.

Working Toward Healthier Relationships

Remaining calm and not allowing out-of-control emotions can help to prevent disagreements from becoming more intense. It can also be beneficial to project a positive attitude and try to lighten the mood to reduce tension.

The longer conflict goes on without being addressed, the more difficult it may be to resolve differences. Resolving dysfunctional conflict in the workplace may require intervention from outside experts in the field of conflict resolution. Involving an impartial third party can eliminate any thoughts that the manager appears to choose sides or favor one over the other. Professional conflict resolution can reduce current problems and help to prevent future conflicts.

Reach out to Pollack Peacebuilding Systems to fin

Valerie Dansereau

Copyright © 2022 Pollack Peacebuilding Systems