Organizational Health
(5 Minute Read)

Common conflict and how to start addressing it proactively

Imagine a company firing on all cylinders, both on the business side and people side of the operation.  Revenue is high, employees are engaged, customers are satisfied. Sure, this scenario is idyllic and not all too common. However, the fact is that even in the ideal environment, companies are composed of many individuals and eventually, even the most perfect of teams will clash, and conflict will arise. Conflict is simply unavoidable when dealing with humans (if you run a team of robots though, feel free to click away now). 

Maybe it is inter-team conflict after a standup meeting  where one employee shot down another’s idea. Or it could be the fallout from a promotion that leaves the candidate who wasn't chosen feeling slighted. It could be as simple as someone feeling slighted by a comment about their most recent project. Two things are certain: conflict will be a part of any organization’s journey, and it is costly. CPP Inc., the company responsible for the Myers-Briggs assessment as well as several other conflict related tools, conducted a study on the costs of conflict in the workplace. The results are a bit shocking. U.S. employees spend about 2.8 hours each week dealing with conflict. The average hourly wage in the U.S sits at around $29, which means that conflict is racking up about $580 billion in paid hours across the nation. [1] Creating a culture with healthy and efficient conflict resolution should be on every leader’s radar. 

Conflict management is more of an art than a science, as each individual is unique, as are the situations that create the conflict. It is a proactive practice of resolving conflict prior to its escalation, bringing together both sides to collaborate on a solution. While each conflict is unique, there are some fundamental, common types of conflict to consider when building an infrastructure for organizational conflict.

Task-based conflict

This type of conflict is frequent on teams as they go about their daily activities and pursue goals. Examples could be someone making a change to a design without informing a co-worker, or someone bringing information to a group late, impacting everyone else’s deadlines. 

Key resolution techniques in these scenarios include clearly defining roles and responsibilities early in projects, and clearly defining how they will be held accountable. Process clarity is also an important component of managing task-based conflict. Make sure that employees understand how their tasks impact other team-member’s workflows to achieve a more synchronized process that induces fewer opportunities for conflict. 

Manager-based conflict

Another very common source of workplace conflict is the clash between management styles and employee personalities. A type-A driven manager may set numerous aspirational goals for an employee who could be overwhelmed, preferring to operate one major goal at a time. Or perhaps a manager is hands-off, wanting their employee to take the initiative, but the employee in question would prefer some guidance, and feels somewhat neglected. 

Managing this type of conflict relies on communication. Managers should meet with their reports and establish a clear and mutually-agreed upon cadence both for goal-setting and feedback on work. After executing on that cadence for a while, management and employees should reconvene, and collaborate on any needed improvements. 

Customer-based conflicts

An organization relies on healthy relationships with customers. However, sometimes client relationships can put strain on account managers and teams as they try to balance customer requests with the reality of their capabilities. 

This strain requires a balancing act by managers. It is important to prioritize customer retention and satisfaction by taking responsibility for any mistakes that are made. However, the team will bear much of the strain of keeping customers content, and it is vital to know ahead of time how much the organization is willing to do and pay to keep a customer, and know when to cut the string to protect the health of the internal team. 

Value-based conflict

As the name implies, value-based conflict arises from the disparity between the beliefs of the involved parties. This can include political, religious, ethical, or any other deeply held beliefs. These topics aren’t necessarily primary talking points in most offices, and some might even say they are somewhat taboo. However, in the course of making work decisions, or creating policies, these issues can come front and center. An example scenario could be taking on a major new client that has connections with a political foundation. Value based conflict tends to create heightened distrust, emotion, defensiveness, and alienation. 

The goal in value-based conflict management is to come to a mutual understanding, NOT to try to get both parties to believe the same thing. It is vital to create the opportunity for dialogue and make sure that co-workers have an accurate understanding of the other’s point of view. Another tip is to try to find a different value that the conflicting co-workers share that can be used as a foundation moving forward. Bear in mind that value-based conflict can be very poignant and difficult to resolve, and sometimes it is best to find a resolution of understanding more than agreement in these situations. [2]

Creative Conflicts

When groups work together, individuals will approach a solution in different ways. While this is good for coming up with the best solution to a problem, it also means that ideas will intersect and clash. The way that employees react to each other's ideas can lead to competition, quarreling, and damaged relationships. Lets say one person thinks the new product line should be targeted to young people, and someone else says “that is stupid, we need to include older generations as well”.  Needless to say, there is plenty of room for dispute in the creative processes that it takes to get any product or service from an idea to the marketplace. 

The key in creative conflicts is once again to be proactive about establishing mutual respect within teams. It should be clearly communicated that respect is the standard. Feedback can be honest but should happen after carefully listening to ideas, and should never be disrespectful. It is vital to establish that the organizational standard is to understand a multitude of perspectives and the arrive at the best solution together. When conflict does arise, or someone steps out of line with their feedback style, it should be addressed immediately and transparently to continue to build the norm that respect is vital to future success. 

No matter the type of conflict an organization is facing, much of the work needs to be done ahead of time. While it is important to react to, and deal with, conflict as it arises, it is crucial that organizations have put in the leg work ahead of time to create an environment in which healthy conflict managment thrives. 

If you have any questins about a particular conflict style, or want to talk to a culture expert about identifying and addressing sources of conflict, we would love to connect. Simply head to to get in touch!