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Managing conflict at work

Managing conflict at work

Philip Price, Partner, at workplace review site WorkAdvisor

Many of us will go into 2020 feeling optimistic, but the reality is that the majority of people will have to deal with some sort of conflict at work.


Conflict in the workplace can broadly be defined as inter-personal, for example between worker and co-worker or manager and team member, and inter-group, for example between different functions and departments or staff and management.


We conducted a survey of people working in the UK travel industry, from entry level staff through to senior level executives and asked them one simple question:  Have you experienced conflict at work within the past three years?


Staggeringly more than half (54%) answered ‘yes’.  Some 28% said ‘no’ and 18% were ‘unsure’.


It seems the high-pressure environment of working in the travel industry can lead to more conflict than elsewhere.  The national average of the number of people experiencing conflict across all industries is considerably lower, at 39%.


The high figures in the travel industry may, in part, be due to the Thomas Cook collapse.


However, the industry clearly has a problem that should not be glossed over.  Conflict at work can lead to stress, the breakdown of relationships, poor performance, the failure of projects and even resignations.


Whether you’re a manager or a team member, try to solve any conflict at work by following our five-point plan for dealing with the issue:


  • Identify the root cause

Conflict can be caused by virtually anything – opposing positions, competitive tensions, power struggles, egos, pride, jealousy, performance discrepancies, compensation issues, office affairs or just someone having a bad day.  It’s important to know what you are dealing with, so find out what the problem is.

  • Communicate

Of those who answered ‘yes’ to our survey, many cited the problem as poor communication or miscommunication between managers and teams.  It’s good to talk.

  • Have specific roles and objectives

Frustration and conflict can often be borne out of people being unsure of what is expected of them.  Make sure everyone knows their responsibilities and roles.

  • Treat people with respect in every situation

These days, workplaces tend to be far more reasonable and fair than they were 20 years ago.  But it’s still important to remember that something trivial to one person may be extremely important to another.

  • Make it formal as a last resort

Often a conflict can be resolved with an open and honest conversation and, if appropriate, someone being big enough to apologise.  Of course, there are times when situations need to be formally reported, but don’t make this your default first option.  If your organisation has good communication, issues are more likely to be solved without having to resort to formal procedures.


In our next piece, we look at how managers can spot conflict in the workplace and offer some more practical advice on how to manage it and nip it in the bud.