Conflict can sometimes be a recurring theme within the workplace and an unavoidable part of our personal lives. As people, we make mistakes that we regret on a weekly basis and sometimes this can affect our lives negatively. However, work conflict is not always an easy situation to resolve. Work conflict can occur for a number of reasons and lead to some serious problems within a business, including unclear job roles, poor work environment, bullying and harassment, and even unfair dismissal.

This article will describe conflict management through mediation, explain the perks of conflict resolution, and the types of workplace conflicts that can occur in any business. Some FAQs are also answered at the end of this article to help address any unique scenarios. 

What is Conflict?

Conflict is a serious disagreement between two or more individuals who do not agree on a topic. Employees have their own needs and motivations and this can be breached when conflict arises. Common signs of workplace conflict arising include shouting, avoiding communication, gossiping, and poor morale.

What is Conflict Management?

Conflict Management methods are used to handle work conflicts occurring between employees. These are illustrated by a team leader with a sense of fairness and critical thinking to compromise both parties in a conflict.

However, this is easier said than done as there are a number of conflicts that can occur and each must be well evaluated before being judged.

The importance of conflict management is simple, the reduction of conflict costs that arise from lost working hours to minimize the negative factors. This is dependent on the duration of the conflict or conflict management itself and the number of parties involved.

The cost of conflict is illustrated in the following example by KPMG:

  1. If an employee argues with his boss for one hour and then leaves the company on schedule at the end of the day with anger, both have spent a total of 2 hours of working time on the conflict. Assuming the manager costs the company £100 internally per working hour and the employee costs the company £50, conflict costs of £150 occur. 
  2. But if the same manager stays angry about the discussion for another 30 minutes, so that he starts his next meeting with senior management only a quarter of an hour later, in turn causing them to waste time waiting for him, the following costs incur £50 for the half-hour of the manager plus another 15 minutes waiting time per person present at the meeting, in this case, 10 senior managers with an hourly rate of £80, totaling £200 in conflict costs. 

This shows the difference in conflict costs between the senior managers waiting over the initial hour of discussion between an employee and manager.

Types of Conflicts that can Occur

Workplace Conflicts are more common than you might think and they are caused by poor communication through misunderstandings, stubbornness, and passive-aggressive behavior which lead to the following types of conflict.

Leadership Conflicts

Leadership Conflicts

Every team leader has their own leadership style and every employee will react differently to each leadership style. While some leaders can appear bold and supportive, some come across as laid-back and inviting. having to deal with a number of leaders on a daily basis can seem irritating and confusing. A good leader will understand how their styles can affect their employees in different ways and note the importance of culture and core values to guide a team. This will ensure a consistent involvement within projects and idea-generating while reducing work conflicts.

Work Style Conflicts

Just as there are different leadership styles, everyone also has separate methods of working on assigned tasks. Some take the approach to carry out their duties immediately while others pay close attention to detail, working at a slower pace. It’s important to understand that each employee in the business is different.  Teamwork is best achieved when the skillsets of each employee are maximized by understanding each team member’s working style.

If you can examine and recognize that people have contrasting styles of working, then you can manage work conflicts better. This not only reduces the chance of work conflicts arising but helps train employees to become better equated with each other, therefore helping increase teamwork and communication. 

Personality Clashes

Personality clashes are likely to be the most common sources of work conflicts. They are usually fueled by misunderstanding someone’s perception of another’s actions, motives, or character. This can occur between any employee, irrespective of seniority.

For instance, a leader insulting a member of your team verbally can be displayed as disrespectful and unprofessional which can lead to employees and others holding resentment against them. Instead, it’s best that this be addressed immediately and followed up on in order to demonstrate how the leader has behaved inappropriately and is at fault.

It’s important to understand that everything you see of someone shouldn’t define who they are in the future. A good leader will understand everyone’s personality traits and work towards their needs and wants. This can be through the use of a psychological contract, representing the mutual expectations felt between a manager and employee to influence the behavior of employees at work.

Discrimination/Cultural Conflicts

How Common is Workplace Discrimination?

Source: Statista (2019)

Discrimination is a real issue in the world and the workplace is no exception. The graph above shows the levels of discrimination witnessed in four countries. Respondents from the UK have illustrated that 55% of people have experienced discrimination in the workplace, largely triggered by gender, age, racism, or sexual orientation. 

At times, discrimination or harassment can occur because of differences in our cultural beliefs, values, and practices. However, we must learn to be tolerant of differences so that members of the workforce can coexist within their work environment.

It’s common for employees from different backgrounds to experience conflict and it’s essential this is dealt with by emphasizing acceptance, open-mindedness, and understanding to promote workplace diversity. It’s best to remind individuals that there are more similarities than differences among us.

Task-Based Conflicts

When working in a team, it can be annoying when one member can’t fulfill their responsibilities on the task due to laziness and incompetence. This can jeopardize the task at hand and leave team members feeling angered, leading to work conflicts. It’s only natural for this to occur, and easy to place the blame on somebody else, however, this is not always justified. A sales manager can’t be put at fault for their shortcomings if a marketing lead fails to complete a competition report, for example. 

It’s important to understand each individual’s duties in their contract and the responsibility of a team leader to keep members on track in accordance with the company goals. Members of a team can sometimes misunderstand the goal when carrying out a certain task and this can lead to conflict. To limit task conflicts, delegating responsibilities to each team member is an important and effective form of communicating and holding accountable each member for their input.  . Clarifying what each member should be doing and addressing the outcome will keep everyone on the same page when deadlines approach. This is the role of a team leader and can sometimes be the root of a task-based conflict due to poor communication. 

Increased workloads can also lead to conflict as people feel they are pushed past their limits and therefore feel resentment towards others due to the density of their unfair workload when compared with other co-workers. It’s best for this to be divided equally among a team or based upon everyone’s skill level, which they should be compensated for. However, this can again be another cause of workplace conflicts as unrealistic needs and expectations lead to employers ignoring the requests of employees. It’s best to come to an understanding of what both parties want and can gain from it.

How can Conflict Resolution Help?

If conflict is a continuing agenda within a work environment this can cause serious problems for a business’s productivity, culture, and morale. Work environments aren’t meant for tense, drama-related encounters causing uncomfortableness which leads to a high staff turnover and poor job performance. Instead, it’s important to address these conflicts through conflict resolution.

Firstly, learn to calm down and learn that conflict will always occur whether you are involved in the conflict, a bystander, or a team leader. Focus on what must be addressed by coming to an agreement and the reason why you feel this way. Letting your emotions run wild isn’t going to get you anywhere except an unfair dismissal, so learning to sit and listen to each other will help both parties.

Secondly, being attentive is easier said than done, and asking questions helps reassure what was meant to be said instead of thought. A team leader can help address the conflict by resolving the issue in a private space and going through the STAR approach for self-reflection.

STAR Model for Self Reflection


This acronym stands for :

Situation: Explain what issue had risen and why?

Task: What was your role in the conflict?

Action: What did you do to address the conflict?

Result: What did you learn from this experience?

Self-reflection helps to see both sides’ points of view and understand how each felt during the conflict. It promotes forgiveness and empathy among each other to build upon being better co-workers. Conflict resolution can also be attained through coaching, talent searching, consulting, and leadership development training to train employees to be able to deal with workplace conflicts better. Some actions to avoid when resolving conflicts consist of separately meeting with two employees in a dispute as this can give the impression that one is favored over the other. Another action is not immediately defusing the conflict before it worsens, because this can lead to more disruptions towards others not involved. Furthermore, avoid making accusations and blaming people for conflicts as this can come across as being defensive. If you want to express how you have been wronged, using “I” statements is effective, for example: 

“I feel hurt that no credit was given to me for the project we worked on together” instead of saying “You took the full credit without giving any to me, you’re disgusting”.

Even though both sentences have the same meaning, one explains it from the perspective of the person that feels hurt, allowing employees to feel empathy for what has occurred. This is better than shaming someone for their wrongdoing.

How to Manage Conflict?

Conflict resolution is only temporary and a useful way of dealing with a work conflict at that moment of time, however, conflict management helps limit conflicts arising in the first place. Mediation is a great form of conflict management and aims to find a solution to stop the conflict between both parties from arising again, becoming a win-win situation.

“Mediation creates the necessary space, allowing the parties to come together, speak openly and find creative solutions which can be approved by all parties”.

– KMPG, Conflict Resolution Whitepaper

This not only helps resolve conflicts but stops them from occurring again.

Mediation in the workplace includes the principles of staying calm and active listening to understand, however it incorporates a focus on the future. This helps to solve the problem and keep it from happening again by letting people understand your perspective without coming across as defensive. The most important thing to do is to apologize to each other for any wrongdoing.

Furthermore, asking the right questions is important in order to be able to interact with work colleagues without causing any conflicts. This enables you to show your intent first so that they understand your reasons behind each question, which in return helps recalibrate how they feel in a  situation.

The point of mediation is the intervention in a dispute to resolve it. If this is not the primary goal when dealing with conflict management, it’s unlikely a conflict can be managed as easily. 

Another way conflict can be managed is through HR. Each business has its own HR department and this can help solve conflicts through supporting employees in finding their own solution without providing advice. HR can be helpful when conflict is an ongoing agenda or when morale is low so it’s best to bring this up with your team leader if you don’t feel comfortable in the workplace. An employee should always feel welcomed within a work environment regardless of the diversity of a company, however, this is not always the case.

FAQ Section

Is meditation the best way of managing conflict?

Meditation is a widely used form of conflict management and is known as a solution in managing conflict. It’s important to understand there are different forms of the mediation process, however, the ground rules include confidentiality, dialogue, one person at a time, solution-focused conversations, and “I” statements. 

Can conflict lead to unfair dismissal?

At times, personality clashes are the most common causes of unfair dismissal due to a falling out within the workplace. In many cases, an employee is unfairly treated and this does result in their termination. Only in extreme situations should an employee be dismissed. Certainly not over a single scuffle. This needs to be addressed in the health and safety policies section of the employee handbook. 

How do you approach diversity in coworkers?

Diversity includes how individuals themselves are identified and how others perceive them. This encompasses race, gender, ethnic groups, religion, sexual orientation, age, and more. Having a diverse workplace provides benefits, such as choosing from a larger pool of candidates.

According to a survey conducted by Glassdoor, 67% of job seekers said a diverse workforce is important when considering job offers and 57% of employees think their companies should be more diverse. 

It is important to approach diversity with an open mind and encourage more diverse groups among your employees with a zero-tolerance policy as discrimination is a real issue in the workplace. 

Should each conflict be written up?

We believe it’s important that all workplace conflicts that occur are documented, regardless of their magnitude. These records will help monitor the behavior of employees over time and see a trend in offenses being caused by individuals negatively impacting the office. Documented instances also give businesses a safety net if an employee was to go to court, therefore it’s essential each incident is written and dealt with immediately. The consequences of a conflict are dependent on the actions made and the team leaders themselves.

The Bottom Line on Conflict Management

Workplace conflict will likely always arise in a business environment but it’s important to understand that this can be managed and resolved so that unfair dismissal isn’t the final outcome. Different types of conflicts can occur and each must be measured to ensure a fair judgment. Compromising, forgiving, and showing empathy will always help bring a strong bond between two employees who have argued. However, when nothing can possibly be done to fix a conflict, it’s in the best interest of the business to do the right thing and not play favorites. 

Workplace conflict should always be treated as a serious thing in business and not just be swept under the rug so make sure to address this with your team lead or HR if you feel there’s a conflict happening in your workplace.

Nobody should ever feel victimized in a business environment and all problems can be defused with a solution.