What Causes Conflict at Work?

Unless you’ve figured out some secret the rest of us haven’t, there’s bound to be conflict in your workplace. It doesn’t matter what your company’s culture looks like, every office experiences so degree of discord. Conflict may manifest itself in any number of ways—from a passive aggressive note left of the break room fridge to a full shouting match on the sales floor. 

Allowing conflicts to go on without resolution hinders your team’s ability to collaborate and work successfully. It’s a good idea to have a solid plan in place that allows to resolve conflict in a constructive and timely manner. However, another great strategy is being proactive and eliminating conflict before it happens. The first step is learning what causes conflict at work. Here are some of the most common culprits. 


Conflict has a way of turning something innocent like forgetting to mention a project detail to a coworker into World War 3. When team members don’t have the information they need and a task isn’t successful because of it, that employee might get a little heated. Suddenly that team member doesn’t want to work with the person who didn’t communicate correctly and now projects are taking twice as long. 

Miscommunication isn’t only a sin of omission either. Ever misinterpret someone’s tone in an email and think they’re mad at you? It’s easy to take offense or get frustrated by a coworker’s perceived tone. These interactions may not lead to an all-out brawl in the middle of the office, but can still sow discord among employees.

Different Priorities

Marketing and sales, design and development, management and staff. Most workplaces have some form of tribalism that can unfortunately be a breeding ground for conflict. Every department has a different set of priorities and an agenda they need to further. Ideally, each department knows its role in the company and harmonizes with all the others. 

However, sometimes departments or even individual employees have to compete for resources, human capital and even deadlines. It can be so frustrating when your work depends on another department’s performance—especially when that department isn’t meeting your standards. Creating set processes and deliverables will help your organization avoid unhealthy competition between departments. 

Poor Performance

Coworkers or employees that have let you down in the past can easily lead to conflict in the office. You’re forced to have difficult conversations and probably micromanage them. This often causes that employee to grow defensive, suspicious or even hostile, meaning there’s now conflict on both sides of the fence. Whether you’re someone’s supervisor or coworker, it’s important to approach poor performance with a constructive attitude. Empower that person to succeed. 

Furthermore, try to keep these conflicts (when they arise) private. Don’t spread it around when an employee’s performance is subpar. This leads to office gossip and can alienate the employee even further. Deal with things quickly and professionally before conflict has time to develop.  

isolved from CTR Helps You Manage Your Team with Ease

These are just a few of the common causes of workplace conflict. Every organization has a ton of moving parts and it can be difficult to resolve issues while dealing with every other aspect of HR. That’s why so many companies turn to isolved—a one-stop shop for managing everything to human resources to payroll to benefits administration. Conflict is stressful enough, you don’t need the day-to-day operations to be a headache, too.  Contact us today to learn more about isolved and other HR solutions.