Workplace conflict and how to avoid it

Conflict in the workplace is on the rise, with some 38% of employees having experienced some workplace conflict in 2014. But why is there any conflict in the first place? Why can’t we all just get along, and get on with it?

The fact is, in a world with so many people (we’ve hit the 7 billion mark now!) and a vast range of different views, opinions, and ideas, it’s inevitable that we won’t always see eye to eye. Conflict has always been with us, and always will be. Some shy away from it; others embrace it as an opportunity to iron out underlying discord – but no matter how we respond to it, it’s not going away.

And whether it’s a divisive argument over a key business decision, or a small morning dispute about which brand of tea is the best (we’d say Yorkshire, but we may be biased), conflict is naturally a fairly frequent demon in the workplace.

Some say that workplace conflict can actually be a positive thing, allowing for more creativity and diversity. But if it’s not faced up to quickly and positively, it can spiral out of control before anyone can say ‘en guarde!’. Workplace conflict isn’t self-contained to the ‘conflictees’ either; even if only two people are in conflict, it can have a knock-on effect on an entire team, lowering mood, morale, and ultimately productivity.

It’s important to nip conflict in the bud before it has a chance to erupt and spread through teams. But here’s the interesting thing – often the conflict needs to erupt so that it can be dealt with. A quiet conflict could be unknowingly bubbling away; invisible, but there nonetheless. And invisible conflict is actually the worst enemy.

But how can you crush a conflict you don’t even know is there?

Given that the primary culprit behind workplace conflict is differences in personality or working styles – which makes up 44% of our workplace disputes[i] – you can put steps in place to lessen the impact of these differences and encourage a greater mutual understanding between team members.

Our differences make us who we are. We’re all unique, and our uniqueness – particularly in our behaviour – is driven by our Unconscious Motivators®. Our Unconscious Motivators® influence how we interact with others, how we respond to certain situations, and why we might occasionally butt heads with our colleagues. When our Unconscious Motivators® clash with those of others, we’re Triggered into unproductive Shadow behaviour – and this is both a result of and a source of conflict.

Therefore, the key to preventing this conflict is to establish a mutual understanding of the core motivators of different team members. Once each team member is aware of and understands their colleagues’ Unconscious Motivators®, they can recognise how they might work best with each other. And with this knowledge, they can put strategies in place to vanquish the conflict demon and encourage more positive and productive teamwork.


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[i] CHARTERED INSTITUTE OF PERSONNEL AND DEVELOPMENT (2015). Getting Under the Skin of Workplace Conflict: Tracing the Experiences of Employees [online]. London: CIPD. (Survey Report). Available at: