Workplace conflict is inevitable in a team environment. The Center for Management and Organizational Effectiveness found three factors that are triggering conflict in today’s workplace: 1) Clashing personalities and egos, 2) Competition for resources, and 3) Poorly defined roles and accountabilities. 

Four ways people often respond to conflict when they lack conflict management skills:

    1. They take a “win/lose” approach.
    2. They resort to “demonizing” the other person – “Nobody could work well with him/her!”
    3. They claim irreconcilable differences- “We would never be able to agree on anything!”
    4. They choose to talk about the other person instead of to the other person.

The long-term impact of unresolved or prolonged conflicts on business performance is not immediately obvious. However, The Pollack Peacebuilding Institute estimates that on a personal level employees in U.S. companies spend 2.8 hours each week involved in conflict either directly, or because of other people’s conflicts.

Symptoms of Unresolved Workplace Conflict

Management intervention is required when unresolved conflict produces the following outcomes: 

  1. Work distractions are occurring for both the participants in a conflict and others on the team who are observers of the conflict.
  2. Productivity is declining due to communication breakdowns and deliberate information withholding by the parties in conflict.
  3. A “we” vs. “they” dynamic has taken hold in the culture; some teams appear to have become permanently divided.
  4. Increased absenteeism and quitting. 

A Word to the Wise

If you are considering initiating a conflict discussion with a colleague, here are five things to consider before you initiate a conflict discussion with a colleague: 

  1. Is it worth addressing, or should I let it go?
  2. If the answer is “yes,” ask to talk with the colleague privately.
  3. Be sure your tone of voice and posture are “neutral.”
  4. Communicate with respect.
  5. Always have a backup plan in case your colleague becomes defensive or hostile.

Leadership’s Role in Preventing and Resolving Conflict

If you are a leader today, ensuring that disruptive conflicts within your team or between teams are addressed early and resolved successfully is your job. Use third-party intervention to resolve conflict when: 1) One or more parties is inflexible or unwilling to listen to a different point of view, or 2) when one or more parties has difficulty controlling their words or emotions when discussing the conflict.

Effective leaders set the tone for a collaborative work culture by defining the desired behaviors that reduce conflict.

  1. Keep the focus on issues and outcomes, not personalities.
  2. Listen to understand, not to debate.
  3. Avoid getting stuck in the past → stay outcome-focused.
  4. Agree to honor confidentialities shared during the conflict resolution session.      

Contact us at or call us at 1-888-233-4660 for information about TerconPartners’ Clear the Air Tool that has been used successfully to resolve difficult conflicts by our clients in healthcare, engineering and construction, technology, energy, manufacturing, and government, among others.