How to resolve conflict in a team: Step-by-step with examples

Conflict can be an inevitable and sometimes unavoidable aspect of working life. The good news is that there are methods and strategies for properly resolving clashes and disagreements. Let’s take a look below…


There are all sorts of different personality types woven into the fabric of every single workplace. While these unique personality traits could make individuals a perfect fit for their roles, the same differences can be what cause workplace conflicts and disagreements.

Whether you’re struggling to resolve conflict on your team or trying to manage healthy conflict productively, there are strategies available to help. After all, the last thing anybody wants to be dealing with is regular disagreements at work.

Here, we’ll guide you through the ins and outs of workplace conflict, and introduce you to some effective strategies when it comes to creating positive outcomes from common workplace disagreements.

Types of workplace conflict

The first step to solving workplace disagreements is understanding the various conflict types you should expect to encounter during your work life.

There are three main types, which we’ll delve deeper into below.

Task-based

Conflict relating to workplace tasks can arise for several reasons. From differing expectations to unclear responsibilities, task-based disagreements within teams are usually centred around clashing tasks delegated to various employees.

Relationship-based

Relationship-based conflicts are most likely a result of clashing personality types. Differing communication styles and working preferences can lead to these people disagreeing with each other more often.

For example, a manager with a direct, self-assured personality type might clash with an employee who’s more emotion led simply due to their differing approaches.

Value-based

Value conflict can arise from differences in identities and values. This can often include different ideas about work-life balance and working styles. Sometimes personal beliefs, such as politics, can even come into play.

A good example would be when one individual values their work-life balance more than another, and this causes issues around workload schedules and deadlines.

 

 

Common causes of workplace conflict

Workplace conflict can occur for several different reasons. Below, we’ll explore four of the most common causes of conflict.

Unclear expectations

When employees aren’t clear on their job roles and responsibilities or how these fit in with the rest of the team, it can cause (easily avoidable) disagreements. For example, if you usually handle the client side of a project but you’re expected to lead it this time – which hasn’t been communicated to you – then this can cause conflicts around who is running the project.

Resistance to change

Many workers might be hesitant to accept proposed or implemented changes – especially if they think it could make their job more complicated or difficult as a result. Resistance to changes of any kind can be a common source of conflict; employees will push back against them or argue why they shouldn’t be implemented while others push in the other direction.

Poor communication/lack of communication

A lack of communication is another common cause of disagreements since clarity and direction are usually lacking in these cases. Whether it’s a lack of communication from leaders or amongst team members, productivity and collaboration might be hindered.

In cases where there is communication, but the quality is lacking, this can cause frustration about time being used ineffectively.

Differences in personality

Varying personalities that wouldn’t usually mix outside of the workplace might clash when working together. This can lead to unproductive collaboration and the need for regular conflict management.

Conflict management styles

According to the Thomas-Killman Conflict Model, there are five conflict management styles. These include:

  • Accommodating:Those managing under this style will put the concerns of others above their own
  • Avoiding: As the name suggests, managers adhering to this style will avoid the conflict rather than do anything about it
  • Compromising: A compromising style will attempt to appease all parties, taking a meet-in-the-middle solution to defuse situations
  • Collaborating: Collaborating types will search for a win-win situation in where everyone gets the outcome they want
  • Competing: A competing style means you’ll push your viewpoint and reject any other until you get your way

 

 

Any one of these can be used interchangeably depending on the type of conflict and the most appropriate management method.

When choosing which conflict management style to use, managers should think about their end goals.

Ask yourself the following questions before opting for a particular style:

  • How much do you value the issue?
  • How much do you value the individuals involved and their opinions/beliefs/concerns?
  • Are you fully aware of the consequences each style could have – both positive and negative?
  • Do you have the necessary time, energy, and resources to handle the conflict?

 

The DISC conflict resolution model

DISC is a four-factor personality model used to classify personalities, made up of four traits:

  • Dominance
  • Influence
  • Steadiness
  • Conscientiousness

Below, you can see the archetypes that fit into each category.

 

 

Most people will fit into one of these four personality types, although some might find themselves identifying with traits of a secondary personality type. For example, their personality could be a mix of dominance and influence.

DISC personality types can help us with conflict resolution since it categorises individuals based on their behaviours and traits.

Personality can have a huge impact on the way we communicate with each other. Therefore, understanding how others deal with and respond to conflict can help us work together to solve issues more efficiently and effectively.

Using this model can help identify where you might need to adapt your conflict resolution to best accommodate the other individuals involved.

Examples of conflict resolution

Looking for some examples to see how different workplace conflict scenarios could be solved? Below, we’ll go through some common workplace conflicts and the methods and strategies you could use to resolve them.

Creative differences

When creatives have an opportunity to work together, it can provide great opportunities for collaboration and growth. However, strong creative opinions can often cause conflict that halts progress if they aren’t managed properly.

  • Conflict:Two creatives on the team are working in collaboration to complete a project, but their ideas about functionality and aesthetics might differ. The project can’t move forward until both agree, and neither seems willing to compromise on their ideas.
  • Resolution:As a manager, you’ll need to use active listening skills to understand the concerns of everyone involved, including anybody else you think is relevant to the project. With the end goal for the project in mind, decide whether it would be best to work on this using a compromising or collaborative style. Once you’ve listened to and understood any concerns, you can decide on the best way to move forward so that progress can begin again.

Work schedule conflicts

As we’ve mentioned, different people will often hold different values – which can include their ideal work-life balance. Whether it’s an issue about managers not scheduling tasks correctly or expecting too much from others, work schedule conflicts can cause issues in your team if you avoid them.

  • Conflict: A manager has been sending requests and questions regarding your tasks outside of your usual working hours. This is causing conflict since the manager is requesting that you complete these tasks on top of your usual schedule, and they aren’t offering an alternative.
  • Resolution: The manager will need to adopt an accommodating conflict management style and consider that their employee doesn’t want to complete the tasks outside their usual working hours. They’ll also need to collaborate to find a way that the tasks can be completed. This could be through delegation to others or setting a longer deadline.

 

Employees not meeting expectations

In some cases, employees might not be hitting your expectations as a manager. From turning work in after deadlines have passed to being withdrawn from the team, there can be many reasons for these types of conflicts.

  • Conflict: An employee hasn’t been engaging with the rest of the team on an upcoming project they’re involved in, and they’re handing in tasks relating to it after the agreed deadlines.
  • Resolution: Active listening is also important in this case since you’ll need to address why they aren’t getting involved or hitting deadlines. Once the cause has been established, you can work together to get the employee back on track or steer them away from the project. For example, if they’re disengaged because they don’t see the purpose of the project, you can either help them understand or direct them to a different, more suitable project.

 

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