Common Sources Of Conflict In The Workplace (And What To Do About Them)

Beth Miller |

Three frustrated and overworked business people in the board room

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all go through our professional lives without having to manage conflict? It may sound ideal, but the truth is conflict can’t – and shouldn’t – be avoided. Conflict can promote innovation and creativity, but only if we understand its nature. When we understand the causes of potential workplace conflict, it makes it easier to take the first steps towards resolution.

When Generations Collide

Every employee has a work style, but these types of conflicts can be best illustrated though the generations. Think about your Baby Boomer employees. They typically have a much different work style than your Millennial team members. Millennials want and seek constant feedback, they rely heavily on technology, and prefer sporadic meetings. Boomers, on the other hand, typically don’t seek out constant feedback, they usually prefer face-to-face interactions, and like structured, scheduled meetings.

Generational conflict is not uncommon in the workplace, and many leaders struggle to overcome these issues. An effective way to help the generations understand each other is to partner employees from different generations in a mentoring relationship, or partner them on a project. Through daily interactions, team members from different generations can learn to overcome their misconceptions about one another while learning from each other at the same time.

Resource Allocation Conflict

One of the biggest responsibilities of managers and leaders to ensure that their employees have the resources they need to get the job done. If one team believes that another team is getting too much of the budget, better equipment or more support from leadership, conflict will arise.
Employees don’t need to know or understand why resources are allocated in specific ways, but open communication can help facilitate understanding. Leaders should listen to the needs of each team when they make requests for resources and demonstrate that they take those concerns under full consideration. If a request cannot be met, explain why, and let employees know what they can do in the future to receive those resources. If there isn’t enough money in the budget to provide new software, for example, show them how improving processes can save the department money, and potentially free up budget dollars for new software in the future. Transparency can go a long way in gaining trust and preventing conflict.

Communication Style Conflicts

Most conflict is a result of poor communication, miscommunication, or some other communication-related issue. Take me, for example. I like to have information delivered to me in bullet points so that I can easily digest an email or memo. Because that is my personal communication style, if you were to receive an email from me, the message would likely be succinct, and may include bullets outlining my key points. This might annoy someone on my team who prefers long, detailed communications. If I am always sending him brief communications, and he sends me lengthy communications, conflict will likely ensue.

As a leader, it’s important to understand the communication styles of your team members. You don’t necessarily have to tailor your interactions for each person, but you should keep those preferences in mind. Additionally, you should encourage your teams to share their personal communication preferences with their team members to help everyone understand each other.

Accountability Conflicts

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Employees and their managers can experience conflict when there is a lack of accountably. An employee may communicate with their manager that they are making good progress on a project, but the day it’s due, the manager discovers that progress is far from complete. Someone else is relying on the manager for the work, and with nothing to turn over, the manager is now on the hook.
While employees must be trusted and micromanagement should be avoided, there are ways to track progress without smothering a team. Project management software, for example, allows team leaders to see where each item on a task list is at every step of the process. Managers can also break up projects into smaller tasks to ensure they have a good handle on progress.

There are a number of reasons why conflicts arise in the workplace, but most of the causes of conflict boil down to a lack of communication. Every member of a team is unique. No two people approach a problem in the same way, and no group experiences consensus 100 percent of the time. When leaders facilitate better communication between team members, conflict has a better chance of ending in a positive resolution that promotes healthy future interactions.

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Beth Miller

Beth Miller

Beth Armknecht Miller’s passion for learning, and dedication to helping others, are strands woven throughout her distinguished career, which continue to guide her work with Executive Velocity, a top talent and leadership development advisory firm. As a trusted executive consultant, Vistage Chair, and committed volunteer, Beth holds herself to a rigorous standard of excellence, and she encourages her clients to do the same when pursuing their goals.

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