causes of conflict

17 Common Causes Of Conflict In An Organization: How To Prevent Them?

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Conflict in an organization is unavoidable. Leaders need to proactively recognize and understand the nature of the issue and find appropriate resolutions for conflict to prevent it from escalating.

17 common causes of conflict in an organization include:

Table of Contents

Why Do Conflicts Occur In An Organization?

Simply put, conflict occurs when a person or group’s ideas, interests, perspectives, or concerns seem to be incompatible with another person or group.

Conflict is inevitable in the workplace. In an organization, a group of diverse people is placed together and forced to get along. The different backgrounds, priorities, personalities, learning styles, and working techniques are brought together for a business purpose. These differences almost guarantee a conflict emergence in the organization.

causes of conflict

There are three primary categories of conflict:

  • Task Conflict: Often involves conflict between concrete issues related to an employee’s work assignments. This can include disputes about procedures and policies, resources, managerial expectations, opinions, judgments, and interpretations of information and facts.
  • Interpersonal Conflict: Arises from differences in culture, personalities, preferences, and learning, working, and conflict styles. Individual incompetence can also cause interpersonal conflict.
  • Values Conflict: Value conflict occurs when two (or more) opposing belief systems are at play, and pressure to conform is experienced. The conflict arises from fundamental differences in values and identities, including ethics, norm, politics, religion, and other beliefs. Value disputes can arise regarding work decisions and policies.

Typical success factors like teamwork, communication, and constructive debates can cause conflict.

While well-managed conflict can be beneficial for teams, complex types of disputes are generally negative. Negative organizational conflict can result in emotional stress, work disruptions, non-cooperation, decreased productivity, project failure, and even termination.

Here are the 17 common causes of conflict in an organization:

1. Poor Management Skills

Poor management in the workplace is at the heart of many issues, including conflict. It can cause employees to feel unsupported, unvalued, frustrated, and lacking in trust.

Poor management can cause minor problems to explode into huge disagreements and divisions in the company.

2. Poor Communication 

Poor communication occurs when there’s a discrepancy or misunderstanding between what is said and heard. It can be the result of different communication styles or the failure to communicate.

A lack of omitting critical information or ineffectively sharing it can cause incorrect assumptions, workplace gossip, decreased productivity, and low employee morale. Communication barriers can occur between managers, leaders, colleagues, or managers and employees.

3. Personality Clashes

A personality clash can occur in an organization when employees (and employers) are at odds with each other due to incompatible personalities, different backgrounds, experiences, and conflicting approaches.

Often, there isn’t a specific issue causing the conflict, making personality differences notoriously challenging for companies to resolve.

4. Different Values 

Similar to personalities, employees’ values, perspectives, and beliefs differ within an organization. While different values do not necessarily cause conflict and can fuel growth and innovation, failing to accept these differences can create conflict.

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An employee’s values that do not align with the company’s values or the job itself can create value conflict.

5. Unclear Expectations

Ambiguity causes conflict and kills performance in the workplace.

Unclear expectations create an ineffective working environment. Employees can experience confusion, stress, and frustration about what management expects. This type of conflict is especially apparent when workers receive unhelpful feedback.

6. Conflicting Job Roles

Managers need to discuss an employee’s role and daily duties to prevent them from making false assumptions about what their role encompasses.

Conflicting job roles can also create a toxic ‘finger-pointing’ culture, creating conflict amongst employees.

7. Limited Or Unfair Distribution Of Resources

Competition and conflict arise when an organization lacks sufficient resources, especially companies on shoestring budgets.

Employees and departments can experience pressure to compete for resources to complete their tasks. The perception of unfair resource distribution can create a sense of favoritism, leading to lowered morale and conflict.

8. Unhealthy Workplace Competition 

While competition is often inevitable in a workplace, toxic competition can cause unnecessary stress, anxiety, and conflict. It can create a tense and hostile work environment.

Healthy competition left unmanaged can turn into unhealthy competition where employees sabotage their co-workers for their own advantage. This discourages teamwork and hinders progress.

9. Resistance To Change

Many employees experience changes in the workplace as disruptive and intrusive. Conflict can occur due to different emotions and opinions regarding the change.

The resistance can be due to different personalities, fear of the unknown, insecurity, changes in work-related relationships, loyalty to the past, and valuation of interest.

10. Overwhelming Workload

Workplace conflict can occur when employees experience that their workload is unmanageable and there are being pushed too hard.

Employees can develop animosity and resentment toward colleagues and managers when they feel they are laboring under an excessive workload while others seemingly burden fewer responsibilities.

11. A Lack Of Training 

The effects of improper training can cause a lack of conflict.

Ignoring the significance of workplace training can cause unsafe work environments, unhappy employees, decreased staff morale, reduced productivity, and increased staff turnover.

12. Unfair or Discriminatory Treatment

Unfair or discriminatory treatment can cause heated conflict in the workplace. It can even end in legal trouble for a company.

Personal prejudices and discriminatory conflict typically arise from a lack of understanding, open-mindedness, and cultural acceptance. It can also arise from perceptions of the mistreatment of workers.

13. Lack Of Trust

Team members can feel demoralized by untrusting leaders and managers that criticize and micromanage. The lack of trust can cause conflict in the organization.

14. Workplace Bullying 

Workplace bullying is a persistent mistreatment that can include belittling, humiliation, verbal criticism, personal attacks, and exclusion. It negatively impacts an employee’s health, well-being, productivity, and performance.

If the organization’s managers and leaders do not pay attention to addressing bullying, the victim may resort to conflict out of frustration.

15. Bad Work Habits

Frequently occurring poor work habits can cause conflict in the organization. For example, procrastinating, missing deadlines, often showing up late, and workplace gossip can cause friction between co-workers.

16. Changes To Internal Systems 

Major changes to a company’s internal systems can cause significant conflict. 

Changes in the organizational structure, like new leaders, status positions, mergers, acquisitions, and layoffs, can cause conflict.

17. Generational Diversity

Some companies have up to four generations on their team. Each generation brings a unique set of values, traits, and characteristics to the workplace. These differences impact communication styles and management preferences.

Multiple generations can cause workplace conflict due to different working styles, communication styles, stereotyping, technology, work ethic, punctuality, dress code, and definition of success.

How To Prevent Conflict In An Organization?

The most effective way or resolve workplace conflict is to try to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Although impossible to prevent conflict from ever happening, there are several tips to avoid frequent conflicting situations.

causes of conflict

Here’s how:

1. Set & Communicate Clear Organizational Goals

Never assume all your employees are on the same page – they most likely aren’t.

Workplace conflict can occur due to indifference regarding a company’s facts, goals, values, and methods.

Ensure employees are clear about the company’s objectives, priorities, and methods to decrease the likelihood of dysfunctional conflict.

2. Define Acceptable Behavior

Provide employees with a concise definition of what constitutes acceptable behavior in the workplace. Be clear and public about what will and will not be tolerated in the organization.

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Proper guidelines around acceptable behavior will encourage employees’ actions supportive of a positive atmosphere, and promote team-work amongst fellow employees.

3. Leaders Should Model Accountability For Actions

The same rules should apply to senior leaders and employees. A senior leader must set an example by modeling appropriate accountability for their actions. They also need to fairly deal with the actions and behaviors of their team members.

4. Prevent Potential Conflict

The secret to conflict resolution is conflict prevention, where possible. Leaders should actively seek areas of potential conflict by identifying and understanding what causes natural tension. Proactively intervening can prevent these conflicts from ever arising.

5. Welcome Positive Conflict

Create a work culture that welcomes positive discourse and productive conflict instead of fearing it. Train employees to foster positive conflict and use it to inspire growth, innovation, and creativity.

6. Provide Well-Defined Role & Job Descriptions

Well-defined roles and job descriptions positively impact organizational effectiveness. It reduces confusion, miscommunication, and conflict.

A well-defined job description will help employees better understand the duties and responsibilities of their job description. It should outline what outcomes need to be achieved and how to achieve them.

7. Instill A Well-Articulated Chain Of Command

A chain of command distributes power and responsibilities. It creates a healthy system of sharing information. It also ensures each employee takes responsibility for their work but has a leader for support.

A well-articulated chain of command provides clear direction, stability, accountability, structured responsibility, and increased efficiency. These factors help reduce workplace conflict.

8. Team Building

Leaders should encourage team building as well as an equal distribution of responsibility within the team to help prevent conflict.

Companies can provide conflict resolution and communication skills training to ensure employees have strong communication channels and the skills to successfully resolve minor conflicts.

9. Instill Respectful Communication

Companies should encourage an open and respectful communication culture to prevent conflict.

Managers should inform employees that any form of bullying, disrespect, or hostility will not be tolerated.

10. Provide Frequent Training

Provide frequent and ongoing training opportunities about topics like diversity, sexual harassment, and unconscious bias to prevent these conflicting situations from occurring.

11. Treat Everyone Fairly

Although fair treatment may seem obvious, many managers and leaders are accused of preferential treatment, which can create conflicting situations. Organizational leaders need to behave in an egalitarian fashion.

Creating a decision-making framework, using a published delegation of authority statement, and encouraging sound business practices in collaboration, team building, leadership development, and talent management will help avoid conflicts.

12. Welcome Diverse Perspectives

Welcome diverse perspectives and teach employees healthy communication skills. This will allow members to participate in healthy debates. They can respect and positively engage in different values and opinions without engaging in negative conflict.

13. Find Common Ground Between Generations

Prevent generational diversity conflict by finding common ground to build trust. Harness the perspectives of different generations to ignite innovation.

Managers and leaders should facilitate multigenerational collaboration and communication to bridge the gaps and challenges between employees of multiple generations. Consider encouraging non-traditional mentoring.

14. Encourage Humor

Encouraging humor and positive attitudes will lighten the mood in the workplace, which can help prevent conflict.

15. Effective Support & Feedback

An organization must ensure that its employees have a solid support and feedback system. Conflict can arise when team members do not communicate, and an individual is uncertain if their performance is productive and meets the standard.

Avoid conflict by having weekly staff meetings where members can discuss work performance and help each other resolve workplace issues.

How To Resolve Conflict In Your Workplace?

Unfortunately, conflict in the workplace is inevitable. The ability to recognize conflict and implement swift and just resolutions are vital for strong leaders – the inability to do so can be a company’s downfall.

causes of conflict

Here’s how to resolve conflict in your workplace.

1. Act Quickly

Negative energy can spread rapidly through an organization, sometimes even affecting employees uninvolved in the conflict.

Leaders should respond quickly to conflict to prevent discontent and sustain positive employee morale in the workplace. Managing discourse respectfully and professionally can even turn the situation into a positive and constructive experience.

2. Consider The WIIFM Factor

The WIIFM – what’s in it for me – is a critical factor to consider when leaders deal with employee conflict.

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The WIIFM factor is what employees generally care about most. They are interested in the company’s potential opportunities, benefits, risks, and losses. Clearly communicate the benefits and downsides to employees to lessen workplace conflict.

3. Follow A Conflict Clearing Framework

Squash small elephants early by instilling a conflict-clearing framework.

The framework gives employees a process to follow when dealing with conflicts. It helps focus on the facts and remove the emotional part of the conflict, making it easier to resolve.

4. Create An Open Culture 

Conflict can occur when employees’ perspectives and opinions aren’t in sync. Creating an open culture creates a healthy work environment.

An open culture allows employees to explore divergent perspectives safely and comfortably without the fear of conflict. Leaders can then make a final decision.

5. Facilitate Open Communication

Communication “glitches” and misunderstandings can cause workplace conflict. Organizations need to implement guidelines on how employees should communicate with each other.

For example, encourage teams to discuss project details using email. This allows them to look back on the communication.

6. Respond To Issues

Leaders should remain receptive and actively respond to employees’ complaints and issues. Failing to act on someone’s concerns or suggestions can cause more harm and mistrust than not listening.

7. Identify The Root Of Misalignment 

Conflict typically arises when two or more people’s goals, values, perspectives, and priorities are misaligned.

Leaders need to acknowledge conflict as soon as it arises. Address the conflict by identifying the source of misalignment, then address and correct it.

Ensure you listen to both sides (customers, employees, vendors, etc.) to better identify the root of the conflict.

8. Diffuse Conflict Before It Escalates

Leaders should diffuse minor disagreements and conflicts before they escalate. Engaging in honest conversation about issues is more beneficial than living in the festering conflict in silence.

If you spot nuances between team members, help them identify and resolve the situation before it escalates and damages the company culture.

9. Maintain Professionalism

Leaders need to address conflict in a professional manner. Conflicting situations can affect the entire company’s morale and productivity.

Address conflict privately among the employees involved. If it’s a large-scale issue, arrange a company meeting.

10. Empower Employees To Resolve Differences

Sometimes the best thing a leader can do is to stand back and allow employees to settle their differences without intervening. This can be developmental for your workers.

Leaders should model conflict resolution skills and ensure employees have the appropriate tools to manage conflict. Consider offering group coaching on resolving conflict.

11. Engage In Collaborative Problem-Solving

Try to engage members involved in the conflict in a collaborative problem-solving process. Parties need to brainstorm possible solutions together instead of finding an outcome imposed on them.

Employees are more likely to get along and abide by the agreement in the future.

12. Reframe Value-Based Disputes

Reframe values-based disputes by appealing to other values that team members share rather than limiting beliefs. Focus on universal beliefs like non-violence, mutual respect, and equal rights rather than focusing on the differences that precipitated the dispute.

13. Respect & Agree to Disagree

Employees’ viewpoints may differ, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that one party is right and the other wrong.

When disagreements arise, allow employees to share their experiences and opinions unbiasedly. Sometimes you’re simply going to have to agree to disagree on minor differences.

Why Is It Important To Resolve Conflict?

Conflict is inevitable in an organization. Unfortunately, it rarely resolves itself. Conflict tends to bubble up and escalate if it isn’t dealt with properly. When left to fester, ignored conflict can decrease productivity and morale.

Leaders need to be proactive and mediate problems between team members early on to ensure the company culture stays positive and productive. When dealt with properly,  conflict can turn into a positive and constructive experience for employees.

causes of conflict

Wrap Up

You can try to avoid conflict, but you cannot escape it. So, instead of fearing conflict, embrace it and deal with it proactively.


causes of conflict


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Jorge Raziel author of Thebestbusinessadvice


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