Harmony at work: how to manage conflict in a team

Conflict is not only inevitable, it is an inherent aspect of diverse individuals working together towards common goals. Whether due to different communication styles, competing priorities, or the challenges of organizational change, conflict in the workplace can be a significant challenge to productivity, morale, and overall team cohesion.

However, it is important to recognize that conflict does not have to be destructive; it can be an opportunity for growth, understanding, and improved teamwork. Here we’re going to look in more detail into the types of workplace disputes, their origins and effects, and what employers can do to manage them.

Diving deeper into conflicts at work 

Workplace conflict refers to a disagreement or dispute between individuals or groups within an organization that can arise from a variety of factors. Conflict at work is a natural and common occurrence as different people with different backgrounds, perspectives, and personalities work together. These conflicts can occur at any level of an organization and can involve employees, managers, or even entire departments. 

Conflict at work can take many forms, from minor disagreements to more serious disputes. It can affect the overall work environment, team dynamics, and individual well-being. However, not all conflict is negative; some can lead to positive outcomes, such as improved communication, innovation and problem-solving if managed effectively.

According to a CIPD study cited by the UK’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), just over a third (35%) of respondents in 2018 to 2019 said they had experienced either an isolated dispute or incident of conflict (26%); and/or an ongoing difficult relationship (24%) (including conflict with parties outside the organization) in the previous 12 months. Therefore, it is estimated that 9.7 million employees in the UK experienced conflict between 2018 and 2019.

Types of conflicts at work

Workplace conflicts can arise from various sources, and they can manifest in different forms, such as:

  • Conflict over relationships: this refers to personal issues, such as how people are treated.
  • Conflict over the task: the goal, what people are trying to achieve. 

The natural tendency for these two types is to be conflict avoidant – to shy away from disagreement and be most concerned with harmony.

  • Conflict over process: the process of how work gets done
  • Conflict over status: someone’s position in a group or who is in charge. 

The natural tendency for these two types is to be a conflict seeker – eager to disagree and be most concerned with directness and honesty.

Read more: Decoding workplace stress: exploring its causes, effects, and strategies for employers to reduce it

What causes conflict at work?

Conflict at work can arise from a variety of sources and is often the result of a combination of factors. Let’s look at some of them:

Communication issues:

Misunderstandings: incomplete, ambiguous or unclear communication can lead to misunderstandings as individuals may interpret information differently. This lack of clarity can lead to actions or decisions that are inconsistent with the intended message, causing confusion and conflict.

Unmet expectations: when expectations are not clearly communicated or are assumed rather than discussed, people may have different expectations about roles, responsibilities, or outcomes. This mismatch can lead to disappointment, frustration, and conflict.

Poor listening: communication is a two-way process and poor listening can contribute to conflict. When people do not actively listen to each other, misunderstandings can arise and the failure to address concerns or provide feedback can escalate tensions.

Ineffective feedback: constructive feedback is essential for personal and professional development. When feedback is lacking, insensitive, or not specific enough, it can lead to resentment, low morale, and conflict among team members.

Role ambiguity:

Task ambiguity: unclear roles often lead to ambiguity about specific tasks and responsibilities. Team members may not know what is expected of them, leading to confusion and potential conflict over task ownership and accountability.

Overlapping responsibilities: Without clearly defined roles, there is a risk of overlapping responsibilities. Team members may inadvertently duplicate efforts or assume that someone else is handling a particular task, leading to conflicts over inefficiencies and responsibilities.

Underutilization or overload: when roles are unclear, some team members may feel underutilized, while others may feel overloaded. This imbalance can lead to conflict over perceived inequities and disparities in workload.

Accountability issues: without clear roles, it becomes difficult to establish accountability. When mistakes or problems occur, conflict can arise as team members try to assign blame or determine who is responsible for fixing the problem.

Micromanagement: overbearing supervision and micromanagement can lead to frustration and conflict.

Intense workloads:

Competing priorities: heavy workloads often result in individuals having multiple tasks competing for their attention. Conflicts can arise when team members prioritize different tasks, leading to disagreements about which tasks should take precedence.

Burnout and emotional exhaustion: prolonged periods of heavy workloads can contribute to burnout and emotional exhaustion. Fatigue and stress can heighten emotions, making people more prone to conflict over minor issues.

Resource allocation disputes: when workloads are high, there may be disagreements over the allocation of resources such as time, budget and staff. Conflicts can arise as teams compete for the limited resources needed to complete their tasks.

Missed deadlines: overworked employees may struggle to meet deadlines, leading to conflicts with colleagues or managers who rely on timely completion of tasks. This can have a knock-on effect, affecting other team members’ schedules and causing frustration.

Unequal distribution of work: in team environments, heavy workloads may not be distributed equally. If some team members consistently bear the brunt of excessive tasks, conflicts may arise over perceptions of unfairness and inequitable work distribution.

Personality clashes:

Communication styles: Differences in communication styles can lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations. For example, an assertive communicator may clash with someone who prefers a more passive or indirect communication style

Working preferences: different work preferences, such as a preference for collaboration versus independent work, can lead to conflicts over project approaches and teamwork strategies.

Values and beliefs: differences in personal values, ethical beliefs or cultural backgrounds can contribute to conflict. When individuals perceive misalignments in these areas, disagreements and tensions can arise.

Read more: How to foster psychological safety and mental health in the IT industry

Effects of conflict at work

The CIPD analysis estimates the total annual cost of conflict to employers (including management and resolution) at £28.5 billion. This equates to an average of just over £1,000 per employee in the UK each year, and just under £3,000 per person involved in conflict each year.

Workplace conflict can have a range of effects, impacting employees, teams, and the overall organizational environment. These effects can be both negative and positive, depending on how conflicts are managed and resolved. Here are some common effects of workplace conflict:

  • Negative impact on employee morale

Ongoing conflict can create a negative working atmosphere, leading to lower morale. The stress and tension associated with unresolved conflict can contribute to a sense of dissatisfaction and disengagement.

  • Reduced productivity

Conflict can be a significant drain on productivity by diverting time and energy from productive tasks. Employees involved in conflict may spend more time dealing with interpersonal issues than focusing on their job responsibilities.

  • High turnover rates

Prolonged conflict can lead to increased turnover, as employees may choose to leave the organization to escape a toxic work environment. This can result in the loss of valuable talent and the costs associated with recruiting and training new employees.

  • Negative impact on team dynamics

Team dynamics can be seriously affected by conflict. Interpersonal tensions can create divisions within teams, hinder collaboration and undermine the overall effectiveness of group efforts.

  • Impact on mental and physical health

Long-term exposure to conflict in the workplace can have a negative impact on employees’ mental and physical health. Stress, anxiety and other health problems can arise as a result of the emotional toll that conflict takes on individuals.

  • Negative impact on innovation

A workplace environment characterized by conflicts may stifle creativity and innovation. Employees may be less inclined to share ideas or take risks if they fear negative repercussions or conflicts with colleagues.

Read more: Unlocking Success: Fostering Psychological Safety at Work

Managing conflict in the workplace: what can employers do?

Effectively managing conflict in the workplace is critical to maintaining a positive and productive work environment. Managers can take several proactive steps to address and mitigate conflict. Here are some strategies:

1. Encourage open communication

Foster a culture of open communication where employees feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and concerns. Establish regular channels for feedback, such as team meetings, or surveys.

2. Set clear expectations:

Clearly define job roles, responsibilities, and performance expectations. When everyone understands their role within the organization, it reduces the likelihood of conflict arising from ambiguity.

3. Address issues early

Encourage employees and managers to address conflicts as soon as they arise. Early intervention can prevent problems from escalating and becoming more difficult to resolve.

4. Create a healthy work culture

Build a psychologically safe work culture that values inclusivity, diversity, collaboration and mutual respect. A positive culture can contribute to a more harmonious work environment and reduce the likelihood of conflict. Also, it’s important to create mechanisms for employees to provide feedback and suggestions for improvement. 

5. Lead by example

Managers should model effective conflict resolution behaviour. Demonstrating constructive communication and conflict resolution skills sets a positive tone for the entire organization.

6. Monitor workloads

Keep an eye on workloads to prevent burnout and stress, which can contribute to conflict. Make sure workloads are manageable and tasks are distributed fairly among team members.

7. Implement change management strategies

When implementing changes to policies, products or organizational structures, use effective change management strategies. Communicate changes transparently, involve employees in the process, and provide the necessary support and training.

8. Provide conflict resolution training

Offer conflict resolution training programs to help employees develop the skills they need to manage disagreements constructively. This can include communication techniques, active listening, and strategies for finding common ground.

Addezia’s workplace conflict management solutions involve assessing each client organization’s unique culture, values, and challenges and design interventions to address the specific challenges faced by each team. In this way, Addezia’s experts can support your company in establishing a healthy working environment.

Read more: Toxic workplace culture: recognizing the signs and navigating the solutions


Conflict in the workplace is an inevitable thread that, if left unchecked, can weave a discordant narrative within an organization. As we’ve explored the multifaceted landscape of workplace conflict and strategies for resolving it, it’s clear that employers have a powerful influence in shaping a harmonious working environment.

By acknowledging the multiple causes of conflict and understanding their ripple effects, employers can pave the way for transformative change. A commitment to proactive communication, empathetic leadership, and a culture that values collaboration, mutual respect, and inclusivity lays the foundation for conflict reduction.


Estimating the costs of workplace conflict, Independent Research

Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development


Harvard Business Review

Harvard Business Review

Images source Freepik.com

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