6 Common Causes of Workplace Conflict and How to Avoid Them


Causes of workplace conflictConflicts happen in every workplace. They can start with a simple disagreement and often escalate into an argument that impedes the productivity of a team.


Although conflicts themselves are common – effective resolution of those conflicts tends not to be. Even though it may not always be possible to avoid conflict completely, It’s important to be able to recognize common causes of workplace conflict to help stifle them early on.

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Here are some common causes of workplace conflict and some tips on how to avoid them


1.    Resistance to Change

People get stuck in their habits because they are familiar and easy to follow. With change comes fear of the unknown that not everyone is ready to embrace. Change can be stressful and often results in conflict between a team member and management.


It’s helpful to remember that some employees will naturally go through denial, anger, and confusion on their way to embracing change. It’s a common human reaction to resist the unknown and it’s not uncommon for this resistance to turn to hostility.


Considering these factors and guiding team members through the process of change will result in an easier and healthier transition:

  • Communicate the reasons behind change
  • Involve your team members in the process so they know that they are a part of it
  • Train the team members in their new job responsibilities


When your team is calm, relaxed, and open to change and growth, they are less likely to get involved in a change-related conflict.


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2.    Unclear Job Expectations

A job description with an overview of responsibilities always comes with a new position. But it’s extremely difficult for team members to become top performer without training and coaching. Every position has a learning curve that plays a big role in the future success of the employee.


Job Expectations Cause of Workplace Conflict


Some people stay at their jobs for years trying to guess what their manager’s expectations are. Others quit and move on. If someone is unsure of how they need to perform, they might lose confidence and get defensive. Wouldn’t it be easier to state what you expect of the team member from the get-go and avoid frustration that oftentimes turns into a conflict?


  • Communicate the “non-negotiable activities” - direct responsibilities that your team member has to perform in order to be successful at their job.
  • Describe the company culture so the team member knows what kind of work environment they will be a part of.
  • Clarify the reporting procedure that the team member will have to follow.


Avoid conflicts by making your team members aware of what’s expected of them, so they can perform with confidence.


3.    Poor Communication

Communicating is involved in almost every activity that we do in the workplace. Everyone thinks they’re a great communicator, yet so many conflicts happen because of poor communication.


Let’s look at the process of communicating:

  • “Sender” decides to convey a message
  • “Sender” codes the message
  • “Receiver” decodes the message
  • “Receiver” interprets the message and makes assumptions


There is so much room for misunderstanding at every stage of this process, which makes for many opportunities for a conflict to arise.


Here are some quick communication tips to help avoid miscommunication-stemmed conflict:

  • Be clear and concise; don’t leave your team members assuming or guessing.
  • Listen to hear your team members’ new ideas or learn about their concerns.
  • Deliver messages designed for your team members; if they understand what you expect of them, they are set for success.
  • Manage your nonverbal behaviors and learn to read others’.


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4.    Toxic Work Environment

The way people feel about themselves and others in the workplace greatly affects their productivity. Loving your job doesn’t just mean enjoying your everyday tasks, but also involves being a part of a happy work community. Some companies go the extra mile and design their offices to have ping pong tables, bowling alleys, dog friendly areas, libraries, beer stations, etc. to ensure that their employees feel at home and can perform at their best.

Adding bells and whistles to the office space is not always in the budget, nor is it the only way to create a healthy work environment. Here are some of the things you can do to ensure your team is thriving, and avoid a toxic work environment:


  • Encourage communication. Don’t let conflicts escalate, let your team members know that you are open to hearing them out.
  • Focus only on facts in assessing you team members’ behavior and never take sides.
  • Implement procedures. Everyone should know what responsibilities they have, how to perform them, and what they are accountable for.
  • Organize team building events where people can spend time together out of work.
  • Offer training to teach team members essential skills of communicating.


5.    Differences in Personality

Any workplace unites people with different backgrounds, temperaments, experiences, and preferences. We don’t become friends with everyone we meet – so we should’t expect all team members to get along perfectly either. Although it’s not necessary for all coworkers to be friends, a level of mutual respect is crucial for a healthy workplace culture.


Personality differences cause of workplace conflict


It’s a manager’s responsibility to set the tone for healthy relationships within a team. If you, as a manager, are always unbiased, your team members will more likely seek your help in resolving conflicts.


Try to be proactive as well by recognizing disagreements between team members and addressing them immediately:

  • Consider both points of view in a conflict.
  • Focus on factual information, avoid commenting on people’s attitudes and characters.
  • Ask for team members’ ideas on how to best resolve the conflict.
  • Follow up with a meeting to check on employees’ progress.


6.    Poor Work Habits

Many habits that people demonstrate at work are harmless and even helpful for their personal work performance. Even seemingly unusual ones like getting up few times a day to do sit ups or drinking 3 cups of coffee before lunch can hardly be disruptive to others.


However, certain habits can affect the whole team, cause irritation, and spark conflict. These are some of the poor work habits that a manager needs to address:

  • A team member is often late to work or distracted at work. Some other team members might fall into similar patterns thinking that this is a norm.
  • A team member expresses negativity, anger or gossips about others. This behavior might spread among other employees and undermine the team morale.
  • A team member is disorganized and misses deadlines, which can result in the work not being accomplished and reflect on the team’s image.


Once you’ve identified the poor work habit, talk to the team member privately, ask them for reasons why the habit occurs, and guide them to come up with a solution.


Once you’ve identified the causes of conflicts in your team, be prepared for action. Deal with conflicts quickly, always follow up to track progress of your team members, and express confidence in their success. After all, a united harmonious team is key to the growth of your organization!


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