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What Causes Conflict in the Workplace?

Posted on the 16 May 2014 by Ncrimaldi @MsCareerGirl
What Causes Conflict in the Workplace?

Conflict in the modern workplace is unavoidable. With technological glitches, miscommunications and conflicting egos, the typical office can be a hot-bed of tension. By understanding the various types of workplace conflict and their underlying causes, you’ll be able to tackle worker disputes with a sense calmness and professionalism.

Clashing Personalities

Large workplaces are veritable breeding grounds for clashing personalities, as every member of the team has his or her own professional background and way of doing things. When workers with very different methods are entrusted with the same project, sparks can fly. This type of conflict is liable to cause project delays and less-than-ideal final products. In left unchecked, this can even give way to a divided office. When you earn a background in business leadership, you learn why deciding on goals, methods and deadlines before embarking on a project is the key to avoiding conflict of this nature.

In addition, contrasting political ideologies, upbringings and life experiences can make it difficult for certain individuals to work together. In the interest of getting along with your coworkers, it’s best to keep your focus on the job. When conversing with other team members, make a point of avoiding hot button topics like politics and religion. Whatever you may think of a coworker’s worldviews, working in harmony with him or her is what’s important.

Unequal Distribution of Labor

People who don’t do their fair share of work are a problem in every office. In some cases, these individuals may not fully understand the nature of certain projects and are too embarrassed to speak up. Other times, however, these workers are simply lazy and coast through their jobs by piggybacking off the efforts of others. This type of individual can be a hindrance to group-based projects. The fact that they’re present when work is being done doesn’t mean they’re contributing.

To keep group projects from being dragged down by an unequal distribution of labor, make each team member’s duties clear from the get-go. By extension, make sure everyone has a clear understanding of his or her respective role in the project. If someone requires assistance or clarification, there’s no shame in reaching out to another team member for support, but relying on other workers to fulfill your duties is unfair to your colleagues.


Even though we’re well into the 21st century, sexism still runs rampant throughout workplaces. As Forbes reports, a Pew research poll shows that 51 percent of women believe sexism is still present in our society. With sexual harassment and gender discrimination permeating modern offices, the poll’s results hardly come as a surprise. In some cases, female workers are afraid to report incidents to supervisors for fear of backlash from the offending parties. To ensure that sexism stays out of the workplace, supervisors and team leaders need to enact zero-tolerance policies for employees engaging in sexist offenses. Female employees should never have to feel like objects or unequal members of the team.

Changes in the Work Environment

Major changes around the office have a tendency to give way to frustration and stress, which ultimately leads to conflict. With constant advances in communications and computing, many workplaces adopt new technology without giving every employee ample time to become familiar with it. Difficulty adapting to new computers, operating system upgrades or recent software can frustrate certain workers to no end — particularly if their colleagues have had no trouble making the transition. By providing slow learners with some additional guidance, you can prevent them from feeling self-conscious and stop conflict before it arises.


Companies that are downsizing or undergoing a change in leadership are often rife with competition. Certain employees may be so desperate to prove their worth to the company, they’ll go out of their way to outshine colleagues and make them appear incompetent. Many of these employees fail to realize that the type of environment they’re creating is not conducive to good work. Workers being pitted against one another in such a manner can make group projects virtually impossible. To stomp out this problem, project heads need to make it clear that their groups function best as a team — regardless of the situation at the top.

With so many varieties of workplace conflict, it can be difficult to maintain a tension-free office environment. However, by keeping your ear to the ground and becoming aware of the signs, you’ll be able to stop employee disputes in their tracks. Have you encountered conflict in the workplace? Tell us all about it in the comments below or tweet @mscareergirl!

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