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Conflicts at Workplace - Harmful For Professional Life

Conflicts at Workplace – We find conflict at most of the places where we work. Conflict at the work place is inevitable.

  • It essentially means ‘disagreement’ or ‘incongruence of ideas’.
  • The disagreement, so long it is subtle, it is manageable, however, once it becomes violent, it becomes unmanageable.
  • A conflict can be between two individuals or between an individual and a group or between two parties.
  • A conflict occurs when both the parties cannot achieve their goals or if there is some disagreement between the two parties.

Sources of Conflict at Workplace


Having said this, let us also try and identify the sources of Conflict at Workplace.

Broadly these sources can be divided into:

  • Personal factors (Internal)
  • Structural factors (external)

Consider a task which has activities that are interrelated to one another or are interdependent on one another. The output of one activity could an input to another and hence unless the first activity finishes, the other activity cannot start.

There could thus be a conflict between the two. This is an example of structural (external) factor leading to conflict. The skills and abilities of a person do not match with the skill sets that are required for the job and hence there could be a Structural (internal) conflict that may arise at the work place.

A particular task may have jurisdictional ambiguities. There may be an occasion where there are no geographical boundaries. Most of the organizations, in fact do not have well defined roles for several or most of the positions, as a result much of the work done by an individual overlaps with the other.

There is no proper job description that is defined for various roles. As a result, two persons or more spend time and energy in doing an activity but with a lot of overlap, resulting into poor utilization of manpower from an organizational standpoint. This can well be avoided if the roles for all the positions are well carved out.

It will also bring to light a lot of clarity in terms of the gaps in the processes which can then be plugged accordingly. The role ambiguities are very commonly seen within the department or more within the same function itself.

It is upto the concerned departmental / functional manager to ensure that the roles of the employees are properly defined or for that matter it is important for a team manager to ensure that the roles are properly defined, lest, there occurs an overlap rendering the team less productive. The one that we discussed above can be considered as role conflict.

Internal factors leading to conflicts at workplace can be plenty.

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  • An individual looks at the functional goals in a  different way while another individual looks at the same goals in a different way.
  • The same goal is perceived differently by two different individuals or for that matter, two different groups resulting into a conflict. Therefore when we talk of the organizational goals or when we talk of the vision and mission of an organization, all the people have to be in sync with each other or better put, all of them have to properly aligned to the vision or mission, else a conflict may result. This is an internal factor. This could be called a Goal conflict.
  • The people are not sure about their goals and if such a situation exists, it could be detrimental to an organization. Goal conflict may also be due to scope of work that an individual is expected to do. If such a conflict exists, it would not be in good taste for the success of an organization.

Let us understand this better through an example.

  • Consider an employee or a set of employees who have been recruited and they finally come on board.
  • After joining, they find that the job realities are much different from what they had been told.
  • The scope of the work, the work timings, etc. could be much different from what they were informed before the recruitment. Many a times, a recruiter of an organization, to complete his / her hiring targets, portray an incorrect picture of their goals and roles, often resulting to conflicting situations.
  • The same is often seen by placement agencies, as they place the candidates and get their share of fees from the organizations by portraying a rosy picture of the goals and the roles which the individuals would have to perform, which would be far from realities, this leading to a conflicting situations.
  • Organizations encountering such situations would have invariably have higher attrition rates

Consider an example where I am the boss and I care two hoots for the emotions of my subordinates. My emotions thus clash with the emotion of my subordinates and thus a conflict sets in. This could better be termed as Emotional conflict.

There are several types of conflicts at workplace. Intrapersonal conflict / Intraindividual conflict is the most common form of conflict. This is a conflict that exists within an individual. When an individual goes into a self-introspection mode, he/she encounters an intrapersonal conflict.

Consider a person who comes from a strong ethical background and has strong principles. He works for the organization and while working in it, has been asked to grease the palms of an official. This unethical act may lead to a conflict within an individual as this is against his/her principles.

Interpersonal Conflict at Workplace


Interpersonal conflict is a conflict that occurs between two individuals and is a common  feature in any organization. In fact, it is commonly seen within a function or within department also.

There could be a difference of opinion between two individuals within the same function or there could be difference of opinion between the boss and the subordinate. The production manager and the marketing manager are generally at loggerheads and in a conflicting mode in most manufacturing organizations.

The Marketing manager over commits the targets to its customers to make them delighted and tries to earn brownie points from the management.

On the other hand, the production manager is at cross roads as he is not able to fulfill the production targets set for the month. He is upset with marketing manager as the marketing manager without consulting him, has gone ahead and committed the delivery of products to the client on a particular date, keeping him out of the loop.

A little larger than the above could be intergroup conflict which is a conflict that may exist between two groups of people. For example, there could be a conflict between the workers and the management due to prolonged dispute over increase in the wages. Rivalry between two political parties within the national political arena is yet another example of intergroup conflict.

A little larger than the intergroup conflict is Organizational conflictAn example of conflict at workplace could be a situation wherein, let us say, the HR department of the organization has rolled out a policy which is not liked by the employees. Hence, this could be viewed as a conflicting situation at the organizational level. This may be an organizational wide conflict.

Interorganizational Conflict at Workplace


Interorganizational conflict can be looked upon as rivalry between two organizations. This rivalry should not be mistaken as competition between the two organizations.

Two organizations may enter into a conflict over launching a product or a service. Persistent issue between the local municipal authorities and the people-representative association over poor drainage system and bad roads could also be viewed as an example of this type of conflict at workplace.

Having understood these types of conflicts in an organization, it thus becomes imperative to manage them. The success of any manager or the efficiency of any organization is strongly dependent on conflict management. Closely associated with managing a conflict , is the style or the way by which it is managed or handled.

A conflict could be at a latent stage which may generally not be evident, however, may comprise of factors in a particular situation which may turn into potential sources for inducing a conflict. A conflict could be visible in several ways, the most common being anxiety, tension and frustration. Here in certain cases the conflict is not only perceived but also felt. It may become very visible and may come out in the open as well. Both the parties into conflict, may display extreme behaviours like aggression or even withdrawal.

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Conflict at Workplace: Management Styles


Let us therefore learn a bit about the various conflict managing styles and understanding your personal style of managing a conflict, facilitates you with a better conflict resolution.

  • Competitive Style

A competitive style of managing a conflict reflects a high degree of assertiveness. It involves the use of power in resolving a conflicting situation. In this style of resolution, an individual or a party would also involve the use of high rank, high connection, etc to get things done in one’s favour. In this style, the party takes a stance and sticks to it, showing low degree of cooperativeness.

Cost cutting measures adopted by the management or enforcement of unpopular disciplinary rules by the management would be examples of Conflict at Workplace where this competitive style is used.

This style becomes evident when one party of individual goes all out to gain a strong position without considering the issues or concerns of the other opponent party.

Gradually, as the intensity of conflict aincreases, the tendency for a forced conflict is very likely wherein one party wins over the expense of the other party. A win-lose kind of situation often arises in this mode of resolution.

This type of resolution style can be adopted when the relationship with the other party does not matter.

  • Avoiding Style

An avoiding style of Conflict at Workplace handling, involves stepping aside diplomatically and not addressing the conflict immediately. It involves postponement of the conflict or withdrawing either physically or psychologically from a threatening situation.

This type of style is used when more pressing matters have to be handled in a limited time frame or in other words if there are any other pressing matters to be addressed, Avoiding style is looked upon as withdrawing from the problem.

This style provides a temporary solution to the problem and the probability of its recurrence is higher.

This style of conflict management at workplace can be used when you know that you cannot win or the stakes are low or you think that problem will go away or you think that you may win the conflict by delaying.

  • Collaborative Style

A collaborative style of conflict resolution in the workplace is used when a high degree of assertiveness and cooperativeness is seen during a conflict and both the parties make an attempt to satisfy their needs.

This leads to a Win-win approach wherein both the parties seem interested in resolving conflicts at workplace. This makes the conflict work environment very fertile and leads to the emergence of creative ideas.

This style can be effective when skills in both the parties are complementary and time is sufficient. Cost reduction and learning are positive outcomes from this style. This style is very commonly seen in most professional organizations today.

For instance, when the monthly payroll is processed, the HR manager collaborates with the IT team for a smooth payroll process for avoiding any software related issues and the HR manager also collaborates with the Finance team for tax implications, loan deductions to be incorporated while processing payroll and also for crediting the salary in the respective bank accounts of the employees.

This style is therefore the most sought for in organizations today as it breeds creativity and creates a spirit of teamwork which is highly desirable for organizations.

This style enables open & direct communication which should lead the way to problem-solving. This style of conflict resolution should be adopted when both the parties need to win and trust each other. Here, skills of both the parties are complementary and learning forms the ultimate goal.

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  • Compromising Style

Compromising style of Conflict at Workplace resolution is used when collaboration or competition fails and when each party tries to give up something to reach a compromise.

This often leads to a temporary solution. This style can be used when you want to maintain relations with the parties involved. It can also be used when the parties enter into a deadlock and there seems to be no way forward.

  • Accommodating Style

Accommodating style can be adopted when one party is willing to sacrifice in the interest of the other party.

Here, if the manager constantly defers the problem for one reason or the other, he may lose the respect of the others for himself. In this conflict mode, by yielding to others’ point of view, an individual or a party conveys to the other, that he/she is reasonable.

This style of managing a conflict at workplace is used where the outcome is not vital but solving the conflict is important. This style can be adopted when you want to create a state of obligation for a trade off at a later stage and a good-will.

  • Negotiation

Negotiation is the most common method of conflict resolution in the workplace which involves bargaining between the conflicting parties to reach a decision to resolve their conflict.

At times, we often notice that parties, which are in conflicting mode, enter into a deadlock called Bargaining impasse, which leads to the need for a third-party negotiation.

In a third-party negotiation of a conflict, an attempt is a made by a relatively neutral person to resolve their differences. This could be of three types of conflicts at workplace .

  • Arbitration

Arbitration is one way of third-party negotiation wherein the arbitrator has the authority to dictate a settlement between the parties.

The arbitrator has a high control over the final decision and low control over the process. An outcome or a settlement here is bound to happen because of the authority vested with the arbitrator.

  • Mediation

Mediation facilitates negotiation by using a lot of persuasion and reasoning.

A lot of logical reasoning takes place by the mediator and therefore a mediator possesses high control over the process and low control over the conflict resolution direction.

Ultimately, it is the parties that decide how to resolve their differences.

  • Inquisition

Inquisition controls the conflict to a major extent. An inquisitor has a very high amount of control in a conflict resolution as to how the conflict resolution will go.

He has a high decision control by choosing the form of conflict resolution and possesses a high control over the process as well for what information needs to be examined and how should this be examined.

What we learnt


  • Conflict at Workplace are evident and are unavoidable.
  • Addressing the conflicts, timely, can curb the extent of unpleasantness and make conditions more conducive to work and progress.
  • There are various style and ways which can be adopted for conflict resolution in the workplace. Most of the styles and ways depend on how both the parties behave, at times, if the other party is adamant, then compromise or accommodating style of conflict resolution can be adopted.
  • All said and done, conflicts and their resolutions can better be understood when the managers encounter conflicting situations and adopt suitable resolution styles.
  • Conflicts are very common in an organization, especially at the shop floor. A horizontal conflict occurs at the same level in an organization, ie, between people at the same hierarchal level. These people could be within the same function but performing different roles or between two people of different departments.
  • A line-staff conflict portrays a shop floor picture perfectly. The supervisor is always at loggerheads with the workers, reasons of which could be plenty – ranging from stiff targets, reduced lunch breaks, undue close monitoring, payment of overtime wages and bonus to the workers.
  • A conflict manifests itself in various forms like aggression, tension, frustration, etc. The outcome of a conflict can be positive or negative. If the conflict is genuinely resolved to the satisfaction of both the parties, then the outcome may be termed as positive, else it could be negative.
  • If the conflict at workplace is suppressed for any reason or the other, a residual tension may crop up. This residual tension may subsequently become a source of latent conflict for a next conflict episode to occur.

Related Articles:-

Here are some articles that will help you to get more detail about the Conflicts at Workplace so just go through the link.

  1. 7 Tips & Tricks to Motivate Employees In The Workplace
  2. 6 Important Ways to Resolve Attitude Problems at Workplace
  3. How to Apply Management Theories At Workplace
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