Common causes of conflicts and their effects: Steps for effective workplace conflict resolution


Rachita Jain


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Remote teams are significantly more prone to conflict in numerous ways. Collaboration and communication issues are the second most common drawback of working remotely. And when lines of communication are more easily breached, this can lead to tension, resentment, and dissatisfaction.
The worst aspect is that you might not even be aware that conflict is escalating because of the physical separation between you and every team member.
Is conflict resolution when working remotely even possible?
What adverse effects can unresolved conflicts lead to?
What are the steps toward successful workplace conflict resolution?

Some common causes of conflict when working remotely

Conflict in a remote workspace starts for the same reasons as a conflict in an office- personality conflicts, stress, excessive work, and differences in values. Some of the other reasons are:

1. Digital miscommunication

Communication breakdowns are one of the most common causes of conflict when working remotely. Misunderstandings can occur due to differences in communication styles, lack of face-to-face interaction, or technical issues.
Furthermore, because of the reliance on digital communication (texts, chat, emails, etc.), remote workers frequently perceive offences from others and make assumptions about their motivations. Misunderstandings may fester and have a detrimental effect on morale and job performance in the absence of natural, in-person workplace interactions where there is the capacity to read others' body language clues.

2. Lack of trust

Trust is essential when working remotely, but it can be challenging to build when team members are in different physical locations. Remote workers may feel isolated or excluded, leading to mistrust and conflict.

3. Different time zones

  • Working across different time zones is one of the major examples of conflict at work. It can lead to disputes over scheduling, missed deadlines, and delayed communication.
  • If one team member is in the middle of their workday and the other is already sleeping, there may be delays in responding to messages and emails, which can slow down the progress of a project.
  • If some team members constantly have to work outside of their regular work hours to accommodate team members in different time zones, this can create resentment and conflict.

4. Inadequate technology

Inadequate or malfunctioning technology can cause delays, frustration, and conflict when working remotely. If team members do not have access to collaborative tools like shared documents or project management software, it can be difficult for them to work together effectively. This can lead to confusion, duplication of work, and delays in completing projects.

5. Different work styles

  • Some team members prefer to work independently, while others prefer more collaborative work styles.
  • Some prefer to work in shorter, focused bursts, while others prefer longer stretches of work.
  • Some prefer to make decisions quickly, while others may take more time to gather information and weigh options.
Remote work allows for more flexibility in how work is done, but this can also lead to conflict when team members have different work styles or expectations. Therefore, it is evident how vital workplace conflict resolution is.

6. Lack of accountability

Remote work can create a lack of accountability and transparency, leading to conflicts over missed deadlines, incomplete work, or unclear expectations.
For instance, when team members are not held accountable for meeting deadlines, it can create delays in projects and lead to frustration among other team members relying on their work.

7. Personal issues

  • Your team members may be dealing with high levels of stress and anxiety, which can impact their ability to focus, communicate effectively, and collaborate with others.
  • Your team members may be dealing with health issues that impact their ability to work, such as chronic pain or mental health challenges.
Remote workers may face unique challeneges such as distractions from family, friends, or surroundings, which can affect their work and cause conflicts with team members.

Effects of unresolved conflicts

People often dislike conflict. In fact, conflict frequently results in discomfort and emotional misery. Unresolved conflicts can have several detrimental impacts in a remote workplace.
Here are some of the potential effects of unresolved conflicts in a remote workplace:

1. Decreased productivity

Unresolved conflicts can have a significant impact on productivity in any workplace, and this is especially true in remote work environments. When conflicts go unresolved, they can create tension and resentment between team members, leading to a breakdown in communication and collaboration. This can cause delays, mistakes, and missed deadlines, ultimately harming the bottom line.

2. Poor communication

Unresolved conflicts can create tension and animosity between coworkers, making it difficult for them to communicate effectively.
Moreover, unresolved conflicts can erode trust between team members, making it difficult for them to communicate effectively. When team members don't trust one another, they may be hesitant to share their thoughts and ideas, leading to a lack of open and honest communication.

3. Poor Team Dynamics

Workplace conflict resolution is crucial as unresolved conflicts can create a breakdown in team dynamics, making it difficult for employees to work together effectively. This can create frustration and dissatisfaction, as employees may feel like they cannot achieve their goals or work as a cohesive team.

4. Decreased job satisfaction

Employees involved in unresolved conflicts may become demotivated and dissatisfied with their job. Unresolved conflicts can create a sense of stress and anxiety in the workplace, as employees may feel they are walking on eggshells or constantly anticipating conflict. It can lead to the following:
  1. Increased Absenteeism- Employees will start to physically and figuratively check out to avoid or manage a problem if it is not resolved right away.
  1. Decreased retention- Employees will inevitably decide to leave your company if there is a persistent lack of conflict management. If other employees become aware of the issue and sense any unfairness, it may spread to others. Gossips spread faster than forest fires!

5. Damage to relationships

When disputes are not addressed, they can fester and grow over time, leading to permanent damage to relationships between coworkers. This can make it difficult for teams to work together in the future and even result in legal disputes.
Conflict resolution when working remotely is essential, as unresolved conflicts can create tension and discomfort between coworkers, making it difficult for them to interact in a positive and supportive manner.

6. Negative Interactions

Unresolved conflicts can lead to negative interactions between employees, which can be uncomfortable, awkward, and even hostile. This can create a toxic work environment, leading to high mistrust between your employees.

7. Negative impact on mental health

Conflict resolution in the workplace is vital, as conflicts can lead to feelings of frustration, hopelessness, and helplessness, which can contribute to depression. Unresolved conflicts can create stress and anxiety for employees, which can harm their mental health. This can lead to absenteeism, decreased motivation, and even burnout.

How to avoid conflict at work

Preventing conflicts in the workplace is far better than workplace conflict resolution. Here are some strategies that can help:

1. Promote open communication

Open communication is essential for any workplace, but it becomes even more critical in a remote job. Remote workers don't have the luxury of walking down the hall or water cooler to ask a colleague a question, so it's essential for you to create an environment where your employees feel comfortable asking for help or expressing their concerns.
  1. Set up regular check-ins: Regular check-ins with your team can help ensure everyone is on the same page and prevent misunderstandings. Use these check-ins to discuss work progress, any challenges, or feedback.
  1. Create a safe space for communication: Encourage your team to speak up when they have concerns, ideas, or suggestions. Ensure everyone knows their input is valued and won't be judged or criticized for expressing themselves.
  1. Address conflicts promptly: When disputes arise, they must be addressed promptly. Keep minor issues from turning into significant problems. Encourage your team to work together to find solutions and avoid placing blame.

2. Provide conflict resolution training

Believe it or not, it is a real thing. Provide employees with training on conflict resolution, so they can learn how to effectively resolve conflicts constructively. This can help to prevent conflicts from occurring or escalating.
  • Start with the basics: Begin by teaching your team the basics of conflict resolution, including how to identify the signs of conflict, how to approach conflicts calmly and constructively, and how to use active listening to better understand both people's perspectives.
  • Provide examples: Use real-world examples of conflicts that have arisen in the workplace and how they were resolved.
  • Set up scenarios where conflicts are likely to arise, and have your team members practice resolving them using the skills they have learned.

3. Clarify roles and responsibilities

Clarifying roles and responsibilities is crucial in avoiding conflicts in a remote workplace. When everyone knows what their part is and what they are responsible for, it reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings, duplicated efforts, or missed deadlines.
  1. Define each person's role: Start by defining each person's position within the team. Be clear about their responsibilities, what they are expected to do, and how their work fits into the larger picture.
  1. Document everything: Document each team member's role and responsibilities in a centralized location that is easily accessible to everyone. This can be a shared document or project management tools like Asana or Trello.
  1. Be open to feedback: Encourage your team members to provide feedback about their roles and responsibilities. Ask for their input on how to improve processes, and be open to making changes if necessary.

4. Set clear expectations

Clearly communicate organizational expectations around behavior, performance, and workplace culture. This helps prevent conflicts by creating a shared understanding of what is expected from everyone.
Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) goals for each team member. This helps to ensure that everyone is working towards a common goal and provides a clear framework for measuring progress.

5. Foster a positive workplace culture

Cultivate a positive workplace culture that values respect, collaboration, and teamwork. This helps prevent conflicts by creating an environment where people feel valued and supported.
  • Celebrate successes: Celebrate team successes and individual achievements. Recognize and reward your employees for their hard work and contributions to the team's success.
  • Create opportunities for social interaction: Create opportunities for your team members to connect personally. For example, you could organize virtual team-building activities or informal social events.
  • Provide opportunities for growth and development: Provide your team members with professional growth and development opportunities. This can include training, mentorship, or opportunities to take on new challenges and responsibilities.
  • Lead by example: As a manager, lead by example. Set a positive tone and model the behavior you expect from your employees. Be respectful, transparent, and supportive.

How to resolve conflict at work

1. Acknowledge the conflict

Recognize that a conflict exists and acknowledge the feelings and concerns of those involved. This can help to defuse tensions and create a more constructive environment for resolving the conflict.
  1. Listen actively: Listen to all sides of the conflict and allow everyone to express their opinions and feelings. Active listening shows that you value everyone's perspective and can help you better understand the root of the conflict.
  1. Validate feelings: Acknowledge and validate everyone's feelings, even if you don't necessarily agree with them. It's essential to show empathy and understanding toward each person's point of view.

2. Identify the root cause

For workplace conflict resolution, determine the underlying issue causing the conflict. This may involve talking to the parties, gathering information, and analyzing the situation.
  1. Gather information: Collect as much information as possible about the conflict. This may involve speaking with all parties, reviewing relevant documentation, and observing interactions among team members.
  1. Analyze the situation: Analyze the situation to determine the underlying issues contributing to the conflict. This may involve looking for patterns or commonalities in the information you have gathered.
  1. Consider perspectives: Consider the perspectives of all parties involved in the conflict. Understanding each person's point of view can help you identify the root cause of the conflict.
  1. Look for patterns: Look for patterns in the conflict. Is it a recurring issue? Are certain individuals or teams frequently involved in disputes? Identifying patterns can help you uncover the underlying causes of the conflict.
  1. Ask "why": Use the "5 Whys" technique to get to the root cause. This involves asking "why" multiple times to uncover more profound issues. For example, if the conflict is over a missed deadline, you might ask, "Why was the deadline missed?" Then, ask "why" again to dig deeper until you reach the root cause.

3. Stay focused on the issue

Avoid getting sidetracked by personal attacks or unrelated issues. Keep the focus on the specific problem that needs to be resolved.
Refrain from immediately believing what people are saying. Instead, keep your antenna up and your spy mode on. Listen to everything but believe only what is factual.
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4. Find common ground

Look for areas of agreement and shared interests. This helps build a foundation for resolving the conflict.
Explore alternative solutions if the original plan doesn't work. Being flexible and open to alternative solutions can help find common ground and lead to a successful resolution.

5. Brainstorm solutions

  • Work together to come up with possible solutions to the conflict. Be creative and open to different ideas.
  • Review and evaluate all ideas for feasibility, effectiveness, and practicality. Consider the potential benefits and drawbacks of each solution.
  • Prioritize the most feasible and effective solutions. Determine which solutions will address the root cause of the conflict and achieve the best outcome.
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6. Agree on a course of action

Once a solution has been identified, agree on a plan of action. Then sincerely follow through on it for comprehensive workplace conflict resolution. Set clear expectations and establish a timeline for implementation.
Regularly monitor progress towards resolving the conflict. Check in with all parties involved to ensure that the solution is effective and everyone is satisfied with the outcome.

7. Use a mediator

If necessary, use a mediator to help facilitate communication and find a resolution. A mediator can provide an objective perspective and help guide the discussion toward a mutually beneficial outcome.

8. Follow up

After the conflict has been resolved, follow up to ensure that the solution is working effectively and that any lingering issues have been addressed.
Reach out to all parties involved in the conflict to see how they are feeling and if there are any lingering issues. For a lasting workplace conflict resolution, ask if they are satisfied with the solution and if any further steps need to be taken.

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