Conflict is a fact of life in the workplace

  • Clash: Conflict in the workplace is inevitable, so the ability to resolve it is important

    Clash: Conflict in the workplace is inevitable, so the ability to resolve it is important

Conflict has been around since the beginning of time. It is also pervasive. We have to deal with it in our work, family and social lives. We have to contend with it from childhood to old age. We know it is inevitable, and it doesn’t just go away if we try to forget about it. It is therefore in your interest to learn how to deal with it effectively. Unresolved conflict can be a major stress factor in your life.

Conflict can be defined as the situation that exists when the achievement of your goals clashes with the achievement of another person’s goals.

Conflict is increasing because people are becoming more assertive and are less willing to have their rights, ideas, aspirations and objectives interfered with.

Current estimates indicate that managers spend up to 20 percent of their time dealing with conflict. Many people try to avoid dealing with conflict because they find it can be unpleasant and time-consuming. It can interfere with the principle of harmony.

While harmony is obviously the more desired state, sometimes it cannot be achieved until the issues giving rise to the conflict have been dealt with effectively.

In a conflict resolution seminar I conducted recently 100 percent of the participants regarded conflict as either “strongly negative” or “somewhat negative”. Unfortunately, a negative orientation can lead to inappropriate avoidance. And while avoidance may be a solution on rare occasions, it is normally not a very effective way of handling conflict.

Causes of Conflict

To understand conflict, it is important to know its causes. The following are some of the reasons most frequently attributed to conflict:

l Competition

l Rumours

l Unclear responsibilities

l Lack of information

l Personality clash

l Misunderstandings

l Jealousy

l Stubbornness

l Hurt feelings

l Hierarchy

l Budget

These reasons are personal, social and organisational. However, when people are asked specifically about conflict at work, they provide a combination of the following factors:

l Different priorities. The priorities of one department may differ markedly from those of another. A typical example is marketing and production. When the marketing department promises the delivery of goods by a date which the production department cannot meet, there is usually an ensuing conflict.

l Limited resources. Any organisation has only so many resources, physical, financial and human. Physical resources conflict can involve anything from the size or location of one’s office to the types of paintings or plants allocated to different individuals. Financial resources conflicts usually revolve around budget allocations. Human resources conflicts may stem from appointments, promotions, transfers, retrenchments, demotions, etc.

l Cultural differences. In a multi-ethnic organization with Bermudian, British, Irish, American, Canadian, Portuguese, West Indian, Philippino, Chinese, and other ex-patriots, cultural misunderstandings may arise through a lack of knowledge of another person’s culture.

Other reasons given for organisational conflicts are:

l Management style

l Hidden agenda

l Empire building

l Breach of promise

l Different values.

For more information contact Paul Loftus on (514) 282-9111, email ploftus[AT] or visit the website at

Paul Loftus is an industrial/organisational psychologist, an international management and organisational development consultant, an author and a speaker. Based in Montreal he is a regular visitor to Bermuda to conduct management seminars.

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Published Oct 18, 2011 at 8:37 am (Updated Oct 18, 2011 at 8:35 am)

Conflict is a fact of life in the workplace

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