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Reasons for Conflict in the Workplace

By Holly McGurgan ; Updated June 13, 2017

Workplace conflict occurs when employees disagree or argue due to differing personal styles, goals or expectations. Conflicts at work can impact the productivity and morale of employees and even lead to violence in extreme cases, according to the University of Florida IFAS Extension. Identifying possible reasons for conflict can help supervisors identify problem areas and take steps to resolve issues before conflict occurs.

Personality and Communications Factors

Personality differences can cause problems between co-workers, particularly if two people with very different personalities and working styles must work together to complete a project. Personality may also play a part in communication styles. A person who believes that communication should be short and direct may become annoyed and frustrated by a co-worker who provides long, detailed explanations to every question. The co-worker may be similarly annoyed by what he perceives as his colleague’s lack of attention to detail or unwillingness to share information.

Conflicts may also arise when people of different cultures, values or backgrounds work together. Humor and sarcasm may be perceived as insulting behavior by employees of other cultures or backgrounds. Employees who constantly point out minor faults in other people’s work, style or approach can cause conflict, according to Women Work! Resource. Gossiping about a co-worker may also cause resentment and anger.

Goals and Roles

Conflicting goals can occur when employees are responsible for different duties in completing the same task, according to the University of Florida IFAS Extension. A conflict may occur if the sales department promises that the company can meet a goal without first checking with the employees who must actually perform the work. Poorly written job descriptions can contribute to conflict if they don’t clearly identify which employee must complete a specific task. Pitting departments against each other for resources or rewards can also lead to conflict and a lack of cooperation between departments. An employee who works toward her own personal goals rather than the goals of the department can cause dissension that eventually leads to conflict.

Performance Issues

When employees fail to complete their share of the workload as expected or perform poorly, co-workers may become angry or resentful, especially if they must complete the unfinished work. If an expected outcome does not happen, people become frustrated and upset and look for someone to blame, according to the International Association of Business Communicators. Inconsistent direction and unclear goals from management and supervisors can also cause conflict, particularly if goals are constantly changing. Conflict may also occur if one person or department seems to have a favored position within the company and receives more attention or praise.

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