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Industrial & Organisational : Introduction : Personnel : Organizational psychology : Occupations: Work environment: Index : Outline

Workplace conflict is a specific type of conflict that occurs in workplaces. The conflicts that arise in workplaces may be shaped by the unique aspects of this environment, including the long hours many people spend at their workplace, the hierarchical structure of the organization, and the difficulties (e.g. financial consequences) that may be involved in switching to a different workplace. In this respect, workplaces share much in common with schools, especially pre-college educational institutions in which students are less autonomous.


According to Boston University FSAO, "Causes for workplace conflict can be personality or style differences and personal problems such as substance abuse, childcare issues, and family problems. Organizational factors such as leadership, management, budget, and disagreement about core values can also contribute."[1] University of Colorado–Boulder cites as primary causes of workplace conflict poor communication, different values, differing interests, scarce resources, personality clashes]], and poor performance.[2]

Personality clash

Main article: Personality clash

The issue of personality clashes is controversial. According to the Australian government, the two types of workplace conflicts are "when people's ideas, decisions or actions relating directly to the job are in opposition, or when two people just don't get along."[3] Turner and Weed argue, "In a conflict situation, don’t ask ‘who’, ask ‘what’ and ‘why’. Managers should avoid blaming interpersonal conflicts on “personality clashes”. Such a tactic is an excuse to avoid addressing the real causes of conflict, and the department’s performance will suffer as a result. Managers must be able to recognize the signs of conflict behaviors and deal with the conflict in a forthright fashion. Approaching conflicts as opportunities to improve departmental policies and operations rather as ailments to be eradicated or ignored will result in a more productive work force and greater departmental efficiency."[4]

Office romance

Main article: Office romance

Office romances can be a cause of workplace conflict. 96 percent of human resource professionals and 80 percent of executives said workplace romances are dangerous because they can lead to conflict within the organization.[5] Public displays of affection can make co-workers uncomfortable and accusations of favoritism may occur, especially if it is a supervisor-subordinate relationship. If the relationship goes awry, one party may seek to exact revenge on the other.[6]

Passive aggressive behavior

Main article: Passive aggressive behavior

Passive aggressive behavior is a common response from workers and managers which is particularly noxious to team unity and productivity. In workers, it can lead to sabotage of projects and the creation of a hostile environment. In managers, it can end up stifling teams creativity. De Angelis says "It would actually make perfect sense that those promoted to leadership positions might often be those who on the surface appear to be agreeable, diplomatic and supportive, yet who are actually dishonest, backstabbing saboteurs behind the scenes."[7] - In brief, to respond to this kind of hostile behavior, people need to control performance expectations, parcel out important tasks so there are several responsible people involved, and re-check frequently to see how much delay the passive aggressive worker can generate before the team leader stops him."


Unresolved conflict in the workplace has been linked to miscommunication resulting from confusion or refusal to cooperate, quality problems, missed deadlines or delays, increased stress among employees, reduced creative collaboration and team problem solving, disruption to work flow, decreased customer satisfaction, distrust, split camps, and gossip.[8]


Constantino helps organizations design their own, ad hoc conflict management systems,[9] Tosi, Rizzo, and Caroll suggested that improving organizational practices could help resolve conflicts, including establishing superordinate goals, reducing vagueness, minimizing authority- and domain-related disputes, improving policies, procedures and rules, re-apportioning existing resources or adding new, altering communications, movement of personnel, and changing reward systems.[10] Most large organizations have a human resources department, whose tasks include providing confidential advice to internal "customers" in relation to problems at work. This could be seen as less risky than asking one's manager for help. HR departments may also provide an impartial person who can mediate disputes and provide an objective point of view. Another tool in the conflict resolution in organizations resources box is the introduction of the Ombudsman figure, at the organizational level; charged with surveying common causes of conflict and suggesting structural improvements to address them.[11]


April has been declared Workplace Conflict Awareness Month.[12]

See also


  1. Workplace Conflict, Boston University FSAO.
  2. Resolving Workplace Conflict, University of Colorado–Boulder.
  3. Workplace conflict, Better Health Channel.
  4. Turner. S. and Weed. F., Conflict in Organizations, Prentice-Hall,Inc., Englewood Cliffs NJ (1983).
  5. Dangerous love: An Office romance could cost you your job, Julie N. Lynem, San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 14, 2003.
  6. When an Office Romance Sours,
  7. De Angelis, Paula: Blindsided: Recognizing and Dealing with Passive-Aggressive Leadership in the Workplace, (Kindle Edition - Jun 22,2008)
  8. Workplace Coach: Companies pay the price when managers avoid dealing with conflict, Maureen, Moriarty, Seattlepi, Oct. 28, 2007.
  9. [1] Conflict and dispute management system design: overview.
  10. Conflict Management, FAO Corporate Document Repository.
  11. [2]
  12. Workplace Conflict Awareness Month

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