Sources of Workplace Conflict and How to Deal with Them

People at work sometimes don’t get along with one another, and it’s tempting to treat it as a minor issue (“just grow up!”)

But sometimes the conflict escalates and that’s when the hidden costs – decreases in productivity, turnover, and overlooked customers’ needs – can build up.

Often these problems crop up because people’s work-style preferences don’t match. For example:

  A “big-picture” person is working with a detail-oriented person. The more detail the second person asks for, the more the first person tends to hear it as “that guy is getting lost in trivial details.”

Solution: Help both people see how their individual work-style preferences can come across to the other as not seeing what is “really important.”

A blunt, no-nonsense team leader is working with a thin-skinned, sensitive team member. The team leader’s drive to get to the point in any discussion tends to be seen by the sensitive team member as brow-beating and a personal attack.

Solution: Help the team leader see that his relentless focus on eliminating from the discussion anything he sees as irrelevant can seem over-bearing and arrogant. And help the sensitive team member see that the team leader’s focus on getting to the point is task-oriented and not a personal attack.

A high energy team gets a new team member whose style is cautious and deliberate. The teams sees this person as simply lazy and not committed enough to the team’s goals to work at the same pace they set.

Solution: Help the team see that there is an advantage to having a teammate who moves at a slower pace because it can mean that he or she picks up on important issues that a fast-moving team can miss.

Overall, while we have much in common with one another, there is much in the way of individual work-style preferences that make us different from one another. The work-style preferences are just that: differences. They are not character deficiencies and they are not necessarily “bad.”

Whether a person’s personal work-style preferences work for or against him or her can depend on what the immediate circumstances require. In an emergency, the aggressive demand to cut-the-crap and focus on the present can be functional. That same style in a regular problem-solving meeting is likely to be out of place and can come across as needlessly arrogant.

The challenge for each of us is, as the Greeks said 2,000 years ago, to know ourselves. Know our work-style preferences and, with that knowledge, know when and how to use (or not) them to meet the demands of the moment. We are only human, after all, and none of us is able to do this perfectly. But individual glory goes to those who try.