This section looks at understanding how conflict arises and suggests some ways of dealing with it. Whether you are a manager, an employee or a volunteer, it is important that you know how to handle conflict effectively.
Rules for salaried employees are different to those for volunteers. Read more about the distinction between paid and unpaid staff. NCVO produces a guide to how to avoid creating an employment contract for volunteers.
Find out more about the employment procedures an organisation should put in place.
Conflict can take a variety of forms:
- two employees may simply not get on
- an individual may have a grievance against their manager
- there may be rivalry between teams or departments, or an apparent lack of trust and cooperation between groups of employees and management.
If you are a manager, your team will be looking to you to resolve the conflict and restore harmony.
Types of conflict at work
Conflict at work can be informal or formal.
Informal may involve a minor clash or disagreement between two people.
Formal may involve a claim brought against your organisation in an employment tribunal.
Every situation involving conflict will be different, but most tend to fall into two categories:
- conflict between individuals involving colleagues/employees and their managers
- conflict between groups involving teams or departments/larger groups of employees.
Causes of conflict at work
Conflicts at work can have many causes which include:
- poor management
- unfair treatment
- unclear job roles
- inadequate training
- poor communication
- a poor working environment
- lack of equal opportunities
- bullying or harassment
- personality clashes between individuals
- unresolved problems from the past
- increases in workload
- differing values
- needs and expectations at work.
Resolving conflict at work
Often an issue can be resolved with a quiet word between individuals.
Sometimes conflict will require you to use your organisation's internal procedures. For example, if an employee makes a formal complaint against their manager, they will use the grievance procedure (see our page on poor performance and dismissal and an example of a grievance procedure). If a person is found (after investigation) to be harassing another employee, disciplinary action may need to be taken.
Resolving conflicts at work requires many different skills including:
- active listening
- problem solving
- decision making
- negotiation and in some cases
- knowledge of employment law.
Mediation is increasingly used to resolve disputes between individuals. This can be done by internal managers or by a professional mediator who helps to resolve the issue. A number of organisations offer mediation services including the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, ACAS.
- Managing conflict at work (ACAS) is a free booklet which explains steps to take in a range of situations.
- Managing conflict at work (CIPD) is an article describing mediation and how it can help when dealing with conflict at work.
- Tension in teams (Harvard Business) is An article by Jim Kling which includes replies from readers.