Understanding workplace conflict

If properly managed, workplace conflict can be a vital ingredient to success. Freepik

If properly managed, workplace conflict can be a vital ingredient to success. Freepik

Published Jan 11, 2024


When employees of varied backgrounds and different work styles are brought together for a shared business purpose, workplace conflict is almost inevitable.

Although conflict is generally regarded as having a negative effect in the workplace, a degree of conflict is actually normal and healthy. In fact, many believe that if properly managed, it can be a vital ingredient to organisational success.

The most effective teams are those in which members feel safe enough to disagree with one another. A culture where dissent is allowed, or even encouraged, can spur innovation, diversity of thought and better decision-making.

​Conflict becomes unhealthy when it becomes personal and emotional, often resulting in clouded judgment.

Since conflicts are a natural part of the workplace, it is important that there are people within the business who understand conflict and how to manage it.

Difference is at the heart of conflict, so it's important to explore areas where people often don't align. Common causes include:

Conflicting priorities

Some fights are over resources such as budgets, while others erupt from incompatible goals or reactions to structural change in the company.

Conflicting perspectives

In an increasingly global and diverse workplace, sometimes the core of the problem is that people differ from each other in age, gender, ethnicity, religion, political views or personality type.

Conflicting assumptions

One of the biggest drivers of conflict is when people misinterpret others' intentions. We each view the world through a framework based on our life experiences, and might assume others experience things the same way we do. Working remotely can also increase the chance of this kind of miscommunication and conflict.

Conflicting tolerances

Employees have differing levels of comfort with addressing conflict. Too often, discomfort causes conflicts to be avoided entirely, which can lead to real blowups when one person can't hold it in any longer.


If an employer has mechanisms in place to manage and resolve conflict at the early stages, employees will generally see their employer as fair in their dealings with them and will likely be more satisfied with their jobs.

Reductions in employee conflict can lead to increased employee productivity, greater motivation and loyalty, lower medical costs, fewer workers' compensation claims and reduced litigation costs.

Outside help

While it's better to address workplace conflicts as soon as possible and at a local level, sometimes you need the help of an external conflict management consultant. Those situations may include:

  • When potential legal issues are involved such as allegations of discrimination or harassment.
  • When the HR department doesn't have the time or training to provide the conflict resolution assistance needed.
  • When there are patterns of recurring issues.
  • When the flare-ups are becoming abusive or resemble bullying.
  • When a manager needs retraining that can't be done in-house.
  • When the environment is so toxic that it has become necessary to get everyone offsite so the office doesn't trigger continuing negative responses.

* Supplied by Gestaldt Consulting