Conflict can be described as a disagreement, misunderstanding, argument, and clash of interest, opinion, and principles amongst peoples or groups without reaching an agreement or settlement. It involves a difference between opposing ideas, interests, or individual proclivities and stems from differences in values, objectives, needs, or perceptions.
However, conflict can manifest at various levels, ranging from interpersonal to international. There is also tendency for conflicts within an organisation which could result in physical, emotional, environmental, or other damages affecting productivity.
Though, conflict in the workplace is traumatic and unpleasant, they are unpredictable events that cannot be ignored. These conflicts can arise unexpectedly, involving disputes between management and staff, among staff members, and even between clients and staff. Nonetheless, whenever it arises it must be handled with care to prevent hostility and bias which may affect the activities and effective performance of staff in the firm.2
The need to promote and improve decent relationships in a firm cannot be overemphasized. Management of people at work can be complex because of different beliefs, training and attitudes of members of staff. Therefore, management and staff need to relate in a conducive manner with one another, so that there will be no disruption to achieving the set objectives which may hinder productive output.
Occasionally, conflicts may emerge when staff and management have conflicting objectives. Typically, in many organizations, management seeks greater productivity and services from staff with minimal costs, while staff members aim to secure better compensation for themselves. When there is discord between staff and management, it often disrupts the harmony in the services they provide, leading to decreased productivity.
As a way of achieving accord within the organization, high productivity and attainment of all organizational objectives, management and staff should regard, respect, and treat each other as one of the invaluable assets of the organization, recognizing and protecting their collective interest as it relates to work and effectively communicate with each other.
Occasionally, Management’s style of administration may be a hindering factor in the way of staff’s efforts to achieving higher productivity for the organization. This is because Management often expects high productivity from staff but invests little or nothing in the staff either welfare wise or training wise. Such situations between management and its staff can sometimes lead to strike actions or other forms of protest, resulting in a loss of work hours and a decline in overall productive output.
2. Causes of Conflict in the workplace3
a. Insufficient Information: Conflict in the workplace can occur as a result of insufficient information to members of staff which can lead to potential avoidable disagreement amongst staff. The lack of information and regular communication from Management to staff as it relates to work generates silos of information that can be detrimental to smooth and seamless work flow. On a personal level, staff feel disconnected without clear direction from senior staff or Management concerning work routine, leading to low performance from the staff or conflict in the line of work.
b. Values Conflict: This type of conflict happens when people have perceived or incompatible belief systems where a person or group of persons attempt to impose their values on others or claim exclusive right to a set of values. This can result in a conflict of values amongst staff at workplace. Also, when the rules or culture of the organization go against the core beliefs or personality traits of staff, it leads to a conflict of values. This clash of values can occasionally strain relationships among staff. When the work environment becomes unsafe due to these conflicts, employees may opt to disengage from the organization.
c. Interest Conflict: A conflict of interest in a workplace normally refers to a situation in which an individual’s personal interest conflicts with his/her employer’s business interest. Such conflict may occur over issues of money, resources, or time. Parties often mistakenly believe that to satisfy their own needs, those of their opponent must be sacrificed. The way out is to revisit the letter of employment/contract whichever details the terms of employment to resolve the issue.
d. Relationship conflicts: This type of conflict occurs when there are misperceptions, strong negative emotions, or poor communication among members of staff in the workplace. One person may distrust the other and believe that the other person’s actions are motivated by malice or an intent to harm. Relationship conflicts may be addressed by allowing each person uninterrupted time to talk through the issues and respond to the concerns raised.
e. Structural Conflicts: This conflict is caused by oppressive/aggressive behaviors exerted on others. Limited resources or opportunity as well as organizational structures often promote conflict behavior. The parties may well benefit from mediation since the forum will help neutralize the power imbalance.
3. Process for Resolving Organisation Conflict4
a. Collect all vital information and list out the problem: This is the process of investigating the problem and the cause of conflict from the affected parties or staff. Before taking a decision on the way forward, it is necessary to inquire as to the actual challenge presented. The proper initial step is to carry out a preliminary investigation in order to identify the major causes of the conflict at hand. So, step one is to collect all available information from the workers involved with specificity, avoiding generalization at all costs. To define a problem, you need to be precise about its cause(s) or origin. If you do not get to the root of the situation at the very beginning, the process of resolution would end up in futility.
b. Filling communication gap
Though communication is how employees exchange information and ideas amongst one another, it is effectively the best mode of getting the job done, either in-person or virtually, but when there is a hitch in communication, problems arise.
Communication gap is a state that occurs when communication is not flowing as it ought to be, it happens between coworkers of different positions or between bosses and employees.
The misinterpretation of information or the total absence of communication within an organization is referred to communication gap.
When there is a communication gap, there is a tendency for organisations to experience reduction in staff services and productivities. The most critical disadvantages of communication gap are ignoring organizational goals. When communication fails, the team members may not be aware of the purpose and objective of a particular task. This could lead to mistakes and many errors.5
The way out of the communication gap issue is to bring each person involved in the conflict together for a meeting where they can each present their individual perspective without interruptions, allowing them to articulate their arguments coherently. Adequate time should be given to conduct this meeting in a way that encourages the parties to voice their mind concerning the issue in controversy without being interrupted. Management and mediators need to listen attentively to hear the entire version of each staff’s story before judging or reaching any decisions.
c. Establish relationships. If it is observed that members of staff have not been on good terms with one another, the goal of the supervisor or Management should be to encourage open and sincere two-way communication between affected members of staff to resolve the conflict and encourage a cordial relationship amongst staff members. In order to foster good relationship among staff in workplace, respect for one another must be established. The person standing as the mediator should try as much as possible to keep this atmosphere of deference in mind. Encouraging active listening at every turn for the staff to reach a landing will invariably lead to a satisfactory resolution of differences between the affected staff.
d. Develop an action plan. This is the real key. After sorting out the defining issues and communicated grievances, it is important to carry everyone involved along. Each person should suggest a reasonable solution that will let everyone walk away without grudges.
e. Gain commitment.Once you have a mutually agreed upon solution or action plan, conditions for follow-through must be set indicating the date and time for the actions to be completed. This gives all parties involved something to work toward and it is about taking action on a mutually agreed and planned basis, sticking to the plan, and utilising it as the guideline going forward.
Make sure you have a clear and specific action plan that outlines who will do what, when, and how. Assign roles and responsibilities, set deadlines and milestones, and identify resources and support. Communicate the plan clearly and confirm that everyone involved understands and commits to it.
It is the use of a collaborative negotiation process that builds the relationships in a way that fosters trust and thereby leads to the satisfaction of interests. Without full satisfaction of interests, you will not gain commitment that is practical, durable, verifiable, and well understood by all.
f. Provide feedback. Organize a follow-up meeting where both parties will come together to access the results. Ask if they actually did what they were asked to do? Is each person sticking to the agreed plan, or did other barriers crop up during the intervening period? If yes, these need to be dealt with immediately. Find a way to get back on track toward a final resolution. Be ready to step in and provide accountability, if necessary. Accountability is a useful tool once you have set up a conflict-resolution process. The supervisor (Management) can point to the process and the agreed solution when delivering accountability. Each party should be given the privilege to resolve the situation before corrective measures are taken. This creates an atmosphere of fairness.7
Workplace conflict is a state of disagreement or misunderstanding resulting from a communication gap or dissent of needs, opinions, resources, and relationships between the staff in a workplace. Being humans, conflicts occur when there is no balance between the varied and sometimes disparate ideas of people or staff who interact with each other on a regular basis. Conflict in the workplace occurs mostly when people’s ideas, decisions or actions concerning a job are in contrast with each other or when two staff just do not get along with one another.
However, Conflict resolution should be one part of a greater teamwork in the workplace. As a leader, management needs to set the tone of inclusiveness and collaboration on a daily basis. That means working together even in the most difficult of moments. Conflict is best resolved by focusing on mutually beneficial goals, by seeking areas of compromise, by sticking to the facts and by keeping personal differences out of the discussion. Emphasise on the process rather than the dispute in order to attain positive results.
1. Justina Olayinka, Legal Secretary, PMU Unit, S. P. A. Ajibade & Co., Lagos State, Nigeria.
2. See https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/conflict accessed 3rd October 2023.
3. See https://www.vilendrerlaw.com/five-main-causes-conflict-mediation-can-resolve/ accessed on 1st September 2023.
4. See https://www.awci.org/media/construction-dimensions/supervision/726-the-sixstep-method-for-resolving- conflict accessed 14th September 2023.
5. See https://kitchen.co/blog/communication-gap-at-workplace-causes-solutions/ accessed 6th September 2023.
6. See, https://www.djjs.org/akhandgyan/articles/beware-communication-gap-can-be-disastrous, accessed on 6th September 2023.
7. See https://www.awci.org/media/construction-dimensions/supervision/726-the-sixstep-method-for-resolving-conflict accessed 14th September 2023
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