What Are the Causes of Conflict in the Workplace?

Written by heidi cardenas
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The cause of workplace conflict is often misunderstood and blamed on personalities and misbehavior, but in reality much workplace conflict is systemic and endemic to the workplace environment. Ineffective organizational systems, unpredictable policies, incompatible goals, scarce resources, and poor communication can all contribute to conflict in the workplace. Workplace conflict causes loss of productivity, distractions, and employee dissatisfaction. However, management can produce positive results by paying attention to and addressing the true causes of conflict in their organisations.

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Ineffective Organizational Systems and Unpredictable Policies

Poor follow-up, unequal application of policies, and inconsistent communications from management all contribute to workplace conflict. Lack of clearly communicated or constantly changing policies cause confusion and disharmony in the workplace.

Organizations need consistent controls, clear communication, and effective conflict management systems in place in order to run smoothly. Managers and supervisors with good management skills who are able to communicate and relate to their employees make the difference between harmonious operations or chaotic, conflict-filled work environments.

Incompatible Goals

Conflict can result when co-workers with different goals and different messages from managers and supervisors have to work together on teams, committees, or in work groups. Management agreement on clear and common goals is important for productivity and harmony among employees in work groups, and a clear vision and business goals from top management eliminates causes of conflict.

Scarce Resources

Scarce resources or competition for limited resources cause anxiety and frustration, whether the resources needed are time, space, supplies, or information. Anxiety, frustration, and competition lead to conflict if not managed well. Good policies and procedures for equitable distribution and use of resources, with proper controls, will lessen or eliminate conflict.

Poor Communication

Poor communication, including dishonesty, unethical behaviour, withholding information, and poor interpersonal skills, contribute to or even cause conflict. Clear, consistent, and open communication, as well as good conflict management skills and systems contribute to healthy working relationships and good work environments.

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