Conflict is part of the workplace, no matter how many or how few workers the commercial environment features. To help you hone your de-escalation skills, it is a good idea to review workplace conflict examples. They allow you to view conflicts from different perspectives and review the techniques that worked for the people in the examples. If you wish to boost your conflict management skills, review the following examples and pull from them whenever you need a little help. Above all, remember to breathe deeply and remain as calm as you can when faced with any work conflict!
1) Process Conflicts
It is not uncommon for employees or management to clash over how work gets done. Known as “process conflicts,” these issues typically revolve around logistics, delegation tasks, and similar procedures. For example, one manager might have a problem with how another manager delegates different tasks. They might take issue with the time of day the second manager chooses to delegate or have a problem with who gets what tasks and why. Who has the last word in brainstorming sessions and who tracks work or meeting minutes are also common process conflicts, as are those concerning on-boarding and off-boarding processes. Some team members might have strong feelings about either or both processes in light of their own experiences with the company.
Say two managers get into a “tiff” about when salaried employees should assign work to freelance contractors. The initial conversation resulted in a disagreement and frustration. Rather than allowing the situation to escalate, one manager could suggest that they take a five to 10-minute break to breathe and reflect on the issue. Once everyone involved feels calm, they can return to the conversation and find a resolution.
Another example is one employee getting agitated because of the company’s current onboarding process. For example, someone was recently hired as an SEO manager to replace the former manager who is leaving to work elsewhere. The former manager’s onboarding process was virtually nonexistent and they had to figure out everything for themselves. Because of this, they are not particularly enthusiastic about helping the new hire learn about the position, resulting in a conflict. To effectively deal with this issue, consider having a short meeting with the former manager where you apologize for the lack of process when they were hired. Explain that the issues this creates are apparent and you want to prevent future problems of the same kind. Ask the former manager what they suggest for smooth onboarding and put their advice into practice. The former manager will likely be more willing to help the new hire as a result.
2) Relationship Conflicts
Personality clashes are common reasons for workplace-related relationship conflicts. Others can center around social events, political and religious views, or even hobbies. Also known as interpersonal conflicts, they can have a damaging effect on the work environment due to mounting tension and dislike of one another.
While team members do not have to personally like each other, they do have to be civil to one another and find ways to work together. One of the arguably best ways to do this is for a manager or supervisor to remind them that they are at work and therefore in a professional environment. Any personal feelings they have about their coworkers are for when these workers are “off the clock.” While they are at work, it is their job and their duty to remain as professional as possible. Should more training be necessary due to lingering conflicts, discuss possibilities with your HR department.
Relationship conflicts can also occur because of personal connections gone bad. For example, say two coworkers dated for six months or more, during which time they kept their relationship at work professional and did not disclose that they were in a romantic entanglement. Despite their professionalism during the relationship, the way it ended resulted in bitterness and resentment on both sides. One coworker has started purposefully undermining the other at every opportunity, while the second coworker makes crude jokes about their former flame in the breakroom. Other team members feel increasingly uncomfortable, with some possibly avoiding their coworkers as much as possible.
Once you become aware of the problem, it is essential to take action immediately. Have individual meetings with coworkers explaining that the office is no place for romantic relationship-related resentment and other unacceptable behavior. Crude jokes are especially unacceptable because they are part of the sexual harassment realm. If the coworkers cannot work together because of their past personal relationships, consider placing them in different departments. Sexual harassment seminars and related training might also be necessary. Depending on the severity of the situation, one or both of the coworkers might need to be let go. If one or two terminations are necessary, it is clearly for the good of the company and makes it clear that such behavior will not be tolerated.
3) Task Conflicts
Other workplace conflict examples revolve around task-related disagreements. One worker or manager might disagree with another worker or manager about the quality of the work or the final outcome of said work. For example, perhaps the marketing department has a problem with the quality of the content the salaried employees or contractors provide. The account manager thinks the content is just fine and does not understand what the issue is, resulting in a conflict.
Rather than descending into a negative spiral, it is a good idea for the two sides to have a meeting and discuss what each can do to improve the situation. Multiple meetings might be necessary until an agreement has been reached, but the end result is a more positive work environment.
Another example of a task-related workplace conflict concerns expectation management. If a coworker’s expectations of an employee below them are considerably higher than what the new team member is trained to do, clashes over assignments and projects result. The subordinate might do the task incorrectly, which is not their fault. To solve this issue, you must clearly outline what is expected of the new hire and provide related guides, such as those about how to perform a variety of different tasks. This reduces, if not eliminates, expectation issues and annoyed team members in the future.
4) Leadership Conflicts
Conflicts among business leaders are not uncommon, since everyone has their own leadership and management style. For example, say one leader is all about flexible work hours that give employees more work/life balance. Everyone is still required to work eight hours a day but can do so at their own discretion, such as working 7:30 to 3:30 or 8 to 4. Another business leader strongly believes in the 9 to 5 workday and continually tries to re-establish it, much to the first leader’s annoyance. They clash, as a result, creating workplace tension and strife.
To deal with this problem effectively, the leaders could poll employees on what they prefer. The likeliness of them choosing flexible work hours is high, so the managers could ask team members to expand on what they love about it. Once the second leader understands why flexible work hours are so essential, they will likely give up their quest for reinstating a 9 to 5 workday.
Another leadership conflict example could concern how meetings are run. One leader is all about business, all day, while the other likes to ask the team funny questions in addition to discussing the day’s to-dos. The resulting conflict makes everyone uncomfortable. To solve this issue, the leaders could agree to run separate meetings for different teams that adhere to their preferred management style.
5) Creative Conflicts
Everyone on the team has different creative ideas, which typically come forth during group meetings and brainstorming sessions. Unfortunately, everyone reacts differently to these ideas, which can cause arguments and excessive competitiveness. Rather than allowing this to continue, managers can delegate the brainstorming sessions by creating smaller groups of like-minded people. They can also establish voting techniques, such as everyone anonymously voting on their favorite creative ideas. The one with the most votes gets used.
When dealing with creative conflicts, it is equally important to remind team members that they are at work and that mutual respect is necessary. While they do not have to like each other’s ideas, they do have to listen. If team members do not care for various ideas, they can either stay quiet or make constructive rather than rude or condescending comments. This helps employees see beyond their own ideas, consider other perspectives, and perhaps become a little more objective.
These are just a few of the many workplace conflict examples out there! No matter what type of conflict your business deals with, it is important to take care of the issue as soon as possible. Doing so makes it clear that the overall health and wellness of the office are important to you and fellow team leaders, which your employees will deeply appreciate. It is also a good idea to treat every conflict as a learning experience. The more lessons you can extract from office conflicts, the less likely repeat issues are to occur.
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