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Risk Factors for Workplace Interpersonal Conflict: How to Prevent it Before It Begins

Pollack Peacebuilding by Jeremy Pollack

Managers might scoff at the amount of time they have to put toward mitigating workplace interpersonal conflict instead of managing productivity, overseeing innovation, attending important meetings, and networking for individual or team growth. But what many managers don’t know until it’s too late is that conflict among team members can be costly. Productivity, profits, and retention can take a hit, but so can the overall morale of a working group, poisoning the company culture and potentially having a direct hit on customers.

Workplace Interpersonal Conflict

As a manager, once you start to see all of the hidden costs of workplace interpersonal conflict, your focus should turn from resolving to preventing workplace conflict. Here are some risk factors to look for to help you stay ahead of workplace conflict and stop it before it starts.

Lack of Conflict Strategies

Conflict management skills in the workplace are not as common as they ought to be. Employees often don’t come to the table with proper training in how to manage or prevent conflict when it arises. This can be important so that all employees feel empowered to handle issues effectively, and it can also help issues get resolved more quickly before they have the chance to escalate. You can support your team in getting the right skills through a workplace conflict coaching program which will resource your team with everything they need.

Limited Resources

When trying to avoid handling conflict in the workplace, one of the best places to look is stress. Every job has stress, of course, but if your employees are so low on the resources they need to complete their tasks, they may start to feel taken advantage of. This tends to lead to burnout which is a kind of stress that conflict can easily grow from. Make sure your employees feel supported and that they can receive the tools they need to do their job.

Poor Leadership

Most likely everyone has an experience where they worked for someone they didn’t get along with, couldn’t trust, or didn’t respect. Good leadership means you’re connecting with your employees, serving their needs so they can do their job to their best ability, and treating them with dignity. Managers that lose buy-in from their employees tend to create environments that are a hotbed for conflict.

Lack of Transparency

Having a boss that doesn’t seem to be helping the team is one thing. Having little-to-no communication about important issues in the office is another. When employees feel lied to or kept in the dark, they stop trusting authority and start questioning it. This creates stress, ambiguity, and gossiping which can turn nothing into something. Employees also want to know that they can speak up to management when they have a problem, otherwise, they may take things into their own hands when that’s not an effective option. If you don’t have open communication with your team, instead of preventing conflict, you’ll need to learn how to resolve disputes between employees actively.

Personality Clashes

While there’s nothing you can do about changing anyone’s personality, what you can do as a manager is ensure teammates that don’t work well together avoid finding themselves on projects together. There can be an inclination to encourage employees to work more collaboratively and get past their own discomfort. This is a noble pursuit that may work on occasion. But if two employees have a track record of not getting along because of different personalities or work styles, why not just divvy up the work in another way so the unnecessary drama can be avoided.


Vanessa Rose

Vanessa Rose is a psychotherapist and writer who enjoys wandering aimlessly around Los Angeles in her free time. With a background in business, she embraces how structure and goals can significantly support the journey into the wild west of psychological exploration. Always curious about self-improvement and emotional expansion, Vanessa also… MORE >

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