6 workplace conflict examples with useful resolutions

Updated 5 September 2023

Workplace conflicts are a common occurrence arising from diverse groups coming together to work. Knowing how to handle conflict in the workplace is an essential professional skill. Understanding what different conflicts may arise in the workplace and how to manage them can help improve relationships with your colleagues and create a healthier company culture. In this article, we explore examples of workplace conflict and offer some potential resolutions that you can apply to your professional situations whilst developing your conflict resolution skills.

Related: Question: ‘tell me about a time you had a conflict at work'

Workplace conflict examples

Workplace conflicts are common in the workplace and typically arise from personal differences, varying work styles and managerial relationships. These conflicts can affect teams and departments in ways such as dismissals, resignations, and absences. Conflicts could also create a significant financial strain for companies, such as unexpected interviewing and hiring costs, redirected training resources and energy and decreased productivity and workflow.

Identifying the conflicts at work is vital in maximising business productivity and maintaining a healthy atmosphere in the workplace. With enhanced conflict resolution skills, you can also prevent conflicts from escalating, reducing their impact on your workforce. Here are six types of workplace conflict examples and resolutions to help if a situation arises:

1. Disagreement over a task

Small-level disagreements frequently happen in the workplace. These task-based disagreements are a natural part of working life, from a singular dispute in a meeting to a difference of opinion on a particular topic. Knowing how to approach these conflicts can help deescalate potential issues within the team or department, such as:

Conflict: You're in your weekly team meeting, deciding which marketing strategy to take on your next project. You and your colleague disagree about which is the best route. You think solution one offers the most significant benefits to your client, while your colleague feels solution two mutually benefits both companies. The discussion becomes heated, and you feel frustrated. Try finding a resolution that encompasses both your points.

Resolution: As a first measure, it's helpful to step back from the issue to stay calm and gain perspective. You can suggest to your colleague that you return to this at the end of the meeting or take a five-minute break to allow everyone time to think. Use this time to breathe and centre yourself. This simple step benefits both parties by creating space and time to return to the problem with a fresh outlook. You can easily prevent this type of conflict from escalating by confronting it early.

Related: What are conflict resolution skills? Definition and examples

2. Employee not meeting expectations

Sometimes an employee may not meet the manager's expectations. This can include turning in work after the deadline to missing a task's essential details. There are many reasons these delegation conflicts occur, so it's vital that the manager listens to the employee and finds a solution that works for everyone, such as:

Conflict: You're a manager of the payroll staff, and one employee has recently started turning in timesheets late. This problem affects more than just your department's performance, as it means other employees receive their paychecks late. You've also noticed that they're withdrawn from the team and seem more distanced from work. While you're annoyed about their work performance, you're also concerned about their welfare.

Resolution: In these situations, active listening is an excellent approach to resolving this workplace conflict. Active listening is a listening technique that involves observing the other person's verbal and non-verbal cues and providing an accurate paraphrase after they've spoken to show them you understand. Whilst active listening, it's vital to acknowledge the other person's perspective and defer judgement. Some useful phrases may include:

  • 'Can you expand on this more for me?'

  • 'What would you like to see going forwards?'

  • 'Can I see if I've understood you correctly?'

  • 'How would you describe your feelings here?'

Related: How To Improve Your Active Listening Skills

3. Experiencing creative differences

Working in a team with creatives can provide an excellent opportunity to grow your professional skill set. However, strong creative opinions can cause conflicting voices, each envisioning different directions for a project. Remember that every innovative idea has positive motivations for helping the project succeed, so use that enthusiasm to resolve these workplace conflicts, like:

Conflict: You're on an architectural team designing a new school building. You're excited to have this opportunity. You're working with another person on the interior design elements, such as the final build's colour schemes and furniture. While you're worried about the overall aesthetic appeal for the students, your partner only seems to care about functionality. You feel like they're dismissing your ideas without even considering them, and it's causing friction between you.

Resolution: Resolve creative differences using your inventive outlooks to generate innovative solutions. Work together with your colleagues to incorporate ideas from both parties, compromising where necessary to highlight the most promising aspects from each perspective. Reframe your opposing creative mindsets as a challenge to further your creativity and critical thinking skills.

Related: Facing adversity in the workplace (how to overcome it)

4. Interpersonal conflicts

Many professionals have found someone challenging to work with or encountered a colleague they disliked. Typically, having interpersonal skills like communication, attention to detail and active listening can help teammates resolve conflicts, although if lacking, it can exacerbate the situation. Sometimes these escalate beyond the one-off disagreements and require professional mediation, like:

Conflict: You love working with everyone else on your team, but there are team members with who you conflict regularly. Before starting your new job, you knew them outside of work, so you're familiar with your opposing views. Now, you're working with them each day is introducing the problems again. You're also concerned that your past relationship might affect your professional performance.

Resolution: When managing conflict, it's important to remember that our emotions influence our response and potentially escalate these situations. In interpersonal disputes, using a professional mediator or another neutral party can help you resolve the issue. This third party can mediate the conversation and ensure you keep working towards potential solutions.

Related: How to mediate conflicts (With definitions and steps)

5. Discrimination

Discrimination is often the most serious of workplace conflicts and the Equality Act of 2010 was created to protect everyone from discrimination in the workplace. However, prejudice and discrimination come in many forms, including overt discrimination, indirect comments and micro-aggressions. Knowing how to navigate and resolve this type of conflict can help create a better team and understanding of each other, such as:

Conflict: You find yourself passed over for a promotion again, only this time you know the other candidate was less qualified than yourself. When you ask for feedback, it's vague and indirect. You worry that there's another reason, besides performance, for their decision. You feel uncomfortable and think you ought to raise this with someone.

Resolution: If you feel that you've experienced discrimination in the workplace, you likely want to involve a human resources (HR) team. You can talk to a manager you feel comfortable with or ask a colleague to come and support you in this process. You can also request a union representative to join you in meetings and ensure the company follows the correct procedure.

Related: How to talk about race, gender and social issues at work

6. Different styles of working

When talking about different leadership techniques, consider your preferences for different work styles. Everyone has their methods for completing assignments, from how we manage our time to our approach to tasks. When we work closely with others, these individual differences can cause conflict, like:

Conflict: Your manager has put you and your colleague together to work on producing a new staff handbook. Unfortunately, your different working styles cause conflict between you. While you prefer group work, they prefer to work by themselves. You like working to a tight deadline, whereas your colleague prefers to get things done ahead of time. You're spending more time arguing about how to write the handbook than writing the document.

Resolution: If you're struggling to work with another person, try seeing things from their viewpoint or adopting the perceptual positioning technique. This method asks you to consider a situation from another person's perspective before acting. This is to encourage an empathetic response. In this technique, you imagine your situation from three perspectives:

  • Yours: Check to appreciate your position and acknowledge how you're feeling

  • Theirs: Step into the other person's position, see the situation through their eyes, and remain compassionate about their emotions

  • Observers: Consider how an outsider sees your interaction and view your conflict objectively

You can complete this task with the person you have a conflict with and deepen your understanding of each other's working preferences to create a closer professional relationship.

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