It is something that we all dread – dealing with difficulty and more specifically, difficult people related issues in the workplace. The first step in dealing with an issue is to understand what and why it was caused. Art Bell (2002) and Brett Hart (2000) suggested between them, 8 causes for workplace conflict, those being:
Looking more closely at these one can very easily see these impacting in our lives outside the workplace as well. Let us look at each one in more detail:
Cause 1. Conflicting Needs
Whenever employees compete for limited sources, recognition, as well as power in the company's "chain of command", problems can happen. Given that everybody requires a share of the company resources (office space, products, leaders time and attention or even additional budget funds) to complete their jobs (Hart, 2002), it should come as no surprise when the "have-nots" gripe and also plot against the "haves" (Bell, 2002).
Cause 2. Conflicting Styles
Considering that people are people, they will differ in the interaction with each other and any existing issues. We all do things in different ways, believing that we are doing is the right thing! Understanding your unique style as well as learning how to cope with conflicting styles of others can be achieved through a plethora of psychometric tests, such as MBTI and MTQ48. An instance of conflicting styles could be where one employee enjoys working in a structured atmosphere whilst another worker does things very much in an unstructured way. These two workers could quickly drive each other insane if they constantly operate in conflict with each other and do not discover how to allow and accept the one another's way of doing things.
Cause 3. Conflicting Perceptions
Equally, as two or even more employees might have contrasting styles, they can likewise have contrasting perceptions. We all see the world through different eyes! They see the exact same issue unfolding in dramatically different ways (perceptually). Bell (2002) gives an example of what might happen if a brand-new administrative assistant arrived into the company. One fellow employee could see the brand-new hire as an advantage (an extra set of hands to help get the task done), while another employee may see the very same new hire as a danger (an clear message that the existing employees are not carrying out their work effectively, or possibly being brought in to replace an existing employee).
Memoranda, individual and team performance appraisals, company reports, corridor comments (the ‘whispering cliques’) and also customer comments are sources for contrasting messages. Exactly what was meant gets lost in a storm of ever conflicting reaction (Bell, 2002). Animosity and conflict can additionally occur when one department is deemed more valuable to the organization than others (Hart, 2002).
Cause 4. Conflicting Goals
Employees could have different point of views about a case, strategy or department objectives and goals. Problems in the workplace can happen when employees are responsible for different obligations in achieving the exact same objective. Take for example the needs of a marketing campaign. A member of the marketing team has been told by the Head of Marketing that quality customer service is the key to a successful campaign, whereas the Head of Sales emphasizes the need for speedy service and sales, regardless of the quality in actually dealing with the customer. One can imagine how quickly problems could arise between the heads of Marketing and Sales if speed is sacrificed for quality time with the customer. Both objectives are important and necessary, but may cause conflict (Bell (2002).
Cause 5. Conflicting Pressures
Conflicting pressures could happen when 2 or more employees or departments are responsible for different activities but with the very same due date/time for action to have been completed. For example, Supervisor A requires Employee A to complete a report by 3:00 p.m. This coincides with the same time that Employee B needs Employee A to have a piece of equipment fixed. In addition, Supervisor B (who is not aware that the device is broken) now wants Associate B to use the broken device before 3:00 p.m. What is the best option? The extent to which we depend upon each other to finish our work could contribute greatly to dispute and conflict (Hart, 2002).
Cause 6. Conflicting Roles
Conflicting roles can occur when an employee is asked to perform a function that is outside his/her job requirement or expertise or another employee is assigned to perform the same job. This situation can contribute to power struggles for territory and ‘one upmanship’. This causes intentional or unintentional aggressive or passive-aggressive (sabotage) behaviour. Everyone has experienced situations where employees have wielded their power in inappropriate ways.
Cause 7. Different Personal Values
Conflict could be created by differing individual personal values. Segregation in the work environment can result in gossiping, suspicion, the formation of ‘cliques’ as well as ultimately, dispute (Hart, 2002). Employees should discover how to accept diversity in the work environment and also to function together as a team, not adopting a ‘them and us’ attitude. Values should be set in the company/department and everybody knows and accepts them - personal values will not necessarily match organisational ones, and this can be a source of conflict.
Cause 8. Unpredictable Policies
Whenever company policies are changed, inconsistently applied, or even non-existent, misunderstandings and potential conflict are likely to occur. Employees need to know and understand company rules and policies; they should not have to guess. Otherwise, unpredictable things can occur such as employees dressing inappropriately or giving out wrong information. The absence of clear policies or policies that are constantly changing can create an environment of uncertainty and conflict (Hart, 2002).
The next time a conflict occurs, take a moment and ask yourself this series of questions:
Once a cause is established, it is easier to choose the best strategy to resolve the conflict. Dealing with conflict should it arise will be the subject of a separate article.
Bell, Art. (2002) Six ways to resolve Workplace Conflicts, McLaren School of Business, University of San Francisco.
Hall, Brett. (2000) Conflict in the Workplace, Behavioral Consultants P.C.