As a leader have you ever encountered a team embroiled in conflict? It seems that nowhere that you step is safe? The workplace is supposed to get results. You are here to accomplish the goals that are set and to get the team moving in a positive direction, working together to achieve the next big thing. The challenge is conflict can get in the way of getting things done and can cause employees to become disengaged – causing a vicious cycle that is difficult to unravel.

As leaders you can help move your team forward by proactively addressing the eight common causes of conflict in the workplace. Two psychologists, Art Bell and Brett Hart in separate articles published in 2000 and 2002 identified eight common causes of conflict in the workplace. The eight causes are:

  • Conflicting Resources
  • Conflicting Styles
  • Conflicting Perceptions
  • Conflicting Goals
  • Conflicting Pressures
  • Conflicting Roles
  • Different Personal Values
  • Unpredictable Policies

As you look at these causes of conflict it is likely that you can identify places that are impacting your workplace. Conflict is sometimes so quiet that it is overlooked, and at other times can fester over the course of years and create a very unhealthy work environment that limits the team’s ability to meet objectives.

Using this framework and some simple strategies could go a long way in keeping your work environment a conflict free zone. This article will address the first two causes of workplace conflict and next two articles we will discuss the other six. The last article in the series will talk about what to do if you have a conflict that is so deeply imbedded that it needs to be proactively managed.

The Challenge of Conflicting Resources

Resources come in the form of people, time, money, and the things you need to get the job done. In today’s work world there are never enough resources and this leads to conflict. There are few environments where people have exactly what they need to get the job done. So, how do you resolve conflict when there will never be enough?

One approach is to hold managers accountable for attaining the required resources for teams under their care. This is done in many great companies by using tools such as the Gallup survey to the workforce that ask questions like “I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right” that provide feedback at an individual manager level that indicates employees are getting the resources that they need. Another is to teach employees ROI analysis, negotiation techniques and collaboration skills. The goal is to create win-win solutions that may mean this time your group sacrifices for the greater good, but next time the law of reciprocity says that you are owed one. This type of give and take keeps the workplace healthy and thriving as everyone gets to win the resource game.

The Challenge of Conflicting Styles

We hear the term diversity a lot in today’s corporate world – it means different things to different people nevertheless any time people work together on a project and it becomes very clear that we don’t all work or think the same. Companies will adopt a style that becomes the norm for the culture. If people act differently than the norm there can be a “cultural rejection” where very good people get rejected by the culture because they act or think differently. The challenge of diverse styles, thought, and behavior are actually the key to effectively solving complex work challenges.

An approach to keep differing styles from causing conflict is to help individuals and managers recognize and embrace the power of the styles through various tools such as DiSC or StrengthsFinder. These tools assess individuals based on behaviors and strengths and build teams intentionally made up of diverse styles and thinking. Teaching the organization to value the difference and learn to appreciate the aspects of what others bring to solving complex business problems.

Recently I was working with a company who had an organizational culture primarily made up of S and C on the DiSC Scale. This meant that they were very steady, conscientious people who worked at a moderate pace, were analytical, and were very nice to each other. As a result, conflict would go underground and not get resolved and things like driving for results and innovation were left behind.

As their corporate strategy was examined closer it was discovered that what they needed was to expand their organizational profile to bring in more people who were innovators, out of the box thinkers, and drivers to execute a more compelling corporate strategy. What often happened though was that if a person was brought in who was innovative or a driver the culture would reject them. They were not “part of the team” or carrying the corporate values. The demand on this business is growth but whenever the leaders would bring in someone with a diverse style the culture would reject them and lose the benefit of the difference. The reality is that organizations need to diversify their teams with all types of individuals and go to the next step of assimilating them into the culture in order to create a sustainable business.

The first step in addressing workplace conflict is to be sure you discover it quickly. If conflict goes underground, it can become part of the corporate culture exhibited with behaviors like gossip and backbiting it can be difficult to untangle. The key is to first ensure that the right types of processes are being used in areas like negotiating for resources, creating win-win strategies so everyone learns how to collaborate and leverage organizational resources.

Alison Paul, Vice Chairman and US Retail Leader at Deloitte sums up where organizations can see results from diversity in thinking styles:

When diversity of thought is really valued, promoted, encouraged, talked about and shared, it enriches not only everyone’s experience and that person’s feeling of being part of something larger than themselves, but it also can give clues to what customers and consumers are looking for in society and help a business better fine-tune its services, products and total value proposition both as a place to work and as a set of products and services to consume.

Diversity in styles really can propel an organization to new heights. In coaching we often see as people and organizations embrace differences it can not only provide a basis for less conflict but can help the company grow and create better products and services.

My charge to you is to be open and transparent with conflict in your organization by bringing it to the surface quickly and by finding the right people who bring diverse ideas and perspectives to and give them a voice at the table.

Next month we will discuss:

  • Conflicting Perceptions
  • Conflicting Goals
  • Conflicting Pressures

At Kinetic Insights, our PathFinders are skilled in helping leaders unleash the greatness in themselves and in their organizations. Call or email us for a quick discussion that just might put you and your team on the path to significant change.

Karen Semon brings over 25 years of progressive experience with national and multi-national companies to her role as a PathFinder. Karen has unique insight into organizational behavior and leadership, which has been developed through her successes in myriad industries and corporate cultures.

Karen Semon brings over 25 years of progressive experience with national and multi-national companies to her role as a PathFinder. Karen has unique insight into organizational behavior and leadership, which has been developed through her successes in myriad industries and corporate cultures. View full bio