How Workplace Conflict Occurs

Many of us have quietly observed it, have been involved in it or have been the victim of it. Workplace conflict  occurs all too often in the modern workplace. The issue of how workplace conflict occurs can be traced back to two distinct areas.

These areas are “lack of effective leadership” and “qualities and characteristics of individuals.”

Lack of effective leadership refers to an individual or organisations failure to implement and utilise effective leadership skills and structure. If an individual in a position of leadership does not know how to lead others or an organisation does not have a clear leadership structure, conflict will take hold quickly. Issues that stem from a lack of effective leadership and fuel conflict are:

  • Lack of trust;
  • Undefined purpose;
  • No standards;
  • Inconsistent application of policy;
  • Unclear communication;
  • Lack of appreciation; and
  • Feelings of disrespect.

The qualities and characteristics of individuals also play a major role in how conflict arises. Personality traits and ego largely influence whether someone will initiate a conflict. The bottom line-individuals with a clear sense of self and a commitment to teamwork will be less likely to engage in conflict behaviour. Being careful to hire people with the same or similar values as your organisation is an important aspect of whether individual qualities and characteristics will give rise to conflict.

Being aware that lack of effective leadership and qualities and characteristic of individuals are the primary sources of workplace conflict is important. You can prevent conflict in your organisation by dealing with issues of leadership and individual characteristics long before difficulties develop.

How Workplace Conflict is Most Effectively Resolved

Workplace conflict is most effectively resolved by the process of mediation where the mediator is an objective third party who is completely independent from the organisational structure. First, the process of mediation is most effective because it allows the individuals in conflict to maintain control of the situation. Maintaining control reduces the impulse people have to dig their heels in. In addition, participants are more at ease in the mediator´s presence because, as a third party, the mediator has no power or authority to control the resolution, which is a significant difference from disciplinary hearings or formal grievance processes. Mediation also tends to be confidential, if not in the legal sense, at least in terms of not placing the conflict on parade for the entire organisation and members of the public to see. Overall, no matter how extensive or intense the conflict has become, mediation is an opportunity for those involved to “clean up their own mess,” which they usually do with the assistance of a competent and skilful mediator. This results in a reduced burden on the organisation, since it does not need to formally intervene.

Second, mediation is most effective at resolving workplace conflict when the mediator is an objective third party who is completely independent from the organisational structure. This is because individuals in conflict are more likely to be open to speaking with and listening to someone who has no connection to the organisation other than for the purpose of resolving the conflict. When the mediator comes from within the organisational structure, participants will often be suspicious of bias and hidden agendas as well as have concerns about the internal mediator´s ability to competently handle the situation when mediation is not that person´s primary job. As the field of mediation has developed, it has become clear that the type of intervention called for in resolving bona fide workplace conflict requires competency and professionalism. Having an unskilled volunteer from the internal structure responsible for resolving conflict in the workplace is an unrealistic expectation.

Finally, several years ago when the use of mediation began to gain popularity among lawyers as a means to settle litigation, many corporate organisations were hesitant to utilise professional mediators. This was primarily due to mediator fees in the $800-$1200/hour range, which was excessively high for the corporate arena. Today, however, the mediation field has broadened and matured. Mediators have become aware of the market difference between providing services to parties in litigation and organisations seeking to resolve workplace conflict early for the purpose of avoiding even the thought of litigation. To this end, competent and highly skilled mediators can be hired anywhere from $200-$400/hour. At today´s rates, choosing to hire a professional mediator will deliver to your organisation tremendous value for your dollar.

Next pending edition: Benefits of Resolving Workplace Conflict Early

Need assistance or feedback? Don’t hesitate to make contact with me.

About the Author

Kylie Head is a mediation services specialist with twenty years of experience in senior management roles.

In addition to mediating disputes, Kylie acts as a facilitator resolving in-house conflict within business, along with working one-on-one to coach individuals through conflict, life transitions and problem solving. Kylie is experienced in providing mediation services with On the Table to parties where the issues are complex and intractable.

On the Table helps people & teams have conversations.

On the Table encourages people and organisations’ to connect and to have dialogue in a way that is meaningful and constructive.

At On the Table we believe in:

  • peaceful conflict resolution and mediation
  • resolving conflict through conversations
  • conflict management coaching
  • you could benefit by using a mediation specialist



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