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Top 10 causes of workplace conflict

Workplace conflicts are almost inevitable. Maybe youve just fallen victim to poor communication from your fellow colleagues or been distracted by their inappropriate work wear.

Disagreements at work can be something small, or something major, but it’s important to understand what the causes of conflict are in order to get past them.

Common causes of workplace conflict

These are the top ten causes of workplace conflict:

1. Poor communication

A fellow employee who fails to deliver vital information across an organisation is a big problem and can cause plenty of problems.

Good communication is key when it comes to working in a team. If someone doesnt communicate well, or fails to send the right message, people will start to get annoyed at their incompetence.

Be clear, concise and make sure you keep to the point when passing on information and youll be fine.

2. Two-faced colleagues

They know everything there is to know about everyone, and seem to be best of friends with each and every person in the office. Theyre overly nice, but always seem to have the latest gossip.

Talking about your colleagues behind their back, no matter how annoying they might be, is a disaster waiting to happen and is one of the biggest causes of office conflict.

If you’re not impressed with the way a colleague is behaving tell them you dont want to get caught up in other peoples business. As a general rule, it’s best to stay out of the politics.

3. Clash in personalities

The nature of a workplace means you’re thrown into the deep end with people who you might not otherwise choose to socialise with.

There will always be some sort of disagreement on matters in the office because everyone has their own view, and it would be a very dull place if everyone thought the same. Knowing when to hold back your opinion is key.

4. Slackers

A slackers desk is covered in dust and they pull one too many sickies for it to be believable anymore. Or, maybe theyre the one whose lunch hour turns into the whole afternoon. Whichever one, it’s never nice to feel like you’re doing all the work. This is one of the biggest complaints when it comes to conflict in the workplace.

5. Competitiveness

Theres always someone in the office who seems to want to do everything better than everyone else. Maybe theyre after a promotion, or maybe they just want to prove that theyre the best. Either way, a colleague’s constant campaigns to outdo everyone in their path can be both undermining and aggravating.

Its best to try and focus your efforts on your own work instead of worrying about other people. If you’re doing the best you can do, your efforts won’t go unnoticed.

6. Office romance

Flirting between two employees can be both annoying and uncomfortable. Therefore it is important to recognize that if love does blossom in the office it should stay outside of work.

If you’re in an office whirlwind romance yourself it’s also important to make a conscious effort to treat all your colleagues the same.

On the other hand, if youve found yourself sitting in the middle of shameless ping-pong of bad flirting, speak up. Itll soon open the lovebirds eyes to the awkwardness it’s causing everyone else.

7. Annual leave

There are rules around when you can take your holiday due to other people booking time off first.

Theres always going to be a popular period to go on holiday, particularly if you have children, and it’s important to recognise that everyone in the office is just as much entitled to it as you are.

If there is a specific time that you desperately want off, make sure you book it up ASAP to avoid disappointment and quarrelling with colleagues.

8. Brown-noser

Theres always that one co-worker who is a little bit too chummy with the boss. Every office has someone who brazenly sucks-up for a promotion, and it’s difficult not to be annoyed when they get what they want.

The key to combating conflict with a colleague like this is to avoid getting embroiled in their business. Maybe they actually deserved that raise. Resist the urge to chat with work allies around the water cooler and instead focus on doing your job to the best of your ability.

9. Inappropriate clothing

This is a colleague who treats every day as an opportunity to impress with a series of short skirts or low-cut tops. Or, if theyre male, they turn up with one too many buttons undone.

Appropriate workplace dress is extremely important as it helps employees respect each other. Also, if you’re meeting clients or business partners it is imperative that you make a good impression.

If you have a colleague who isnt projecting professionalism in what they wear it’s vital to take action. It sets a bad example and can cause conflict between those who make the effort day-in-day-out.

10. Not doing the washing-up

Its hard to believe that this is one of the top ten causes of work conflict, but there always seems to be one employee who doesnt do their fair share.

Its unfair to assume that only the most junior of staff should hold the tea and coffee duty, and it’s important to make sure you take it in turns.

Try drawing up a rota, which will ensure everyone knows where they stand and does their fair share. Failing that, invest in a dishwasher.

What can you do to prevent conflict at work

In order to prevent conflict in the workplace, there are several things you can do:

  • Communicate talk to your line manager in a professional, friendly manner. Remember to keep your cool at all times
  • Create a plan or strategy to help manage conflict when it does arise
  • Listen to your team to find out what their issues are to try and prevent conflict before it occurs
  • Ensure that everyone is treated equally and fairly, including pay and incentives
  • Give feedback to staff so they know what to improve on
  • Create a safe and friendly working environment

To reduce conflict in the workplace, prevention is key. So it’s important to talk, listen and work with your team to avoid it happening.

Chris Meredith is CEO of

This article was originally published on 19 April 2014.

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