Conflicts in the workplace are ultimately inevitable. Put a group of different-minded people together for 40-plus hours a week and personalities are likely to clash. Little conflicts between employees aren’t a big deal and usually resolve themselves but long-lasting conflict, one that builds and builds, negatively affects the entire department.

So What Causes Workplace Conflict?

According to SHRM, there are several causes of workplace conflict, including:

  • Personality differences
  • Differences in perspective due to age, sex or upbringing
  • Differences in how employees work
  • Irritating workplace behaviors
  • An employees’ needs not being met
  • Inequality of worker resources
  • Unclassified working roles
  • Competing job duties or poor job descriptions
  • Workplace shakeup like a merger, acquisition or reduction in staff
  • Mismanagement during a company change or transition
  • Poor communication including misunderstanding and remarks taken out of context

How to Address Conflict Between Employees

While it’s best if employees handle any conflicts on their own, there will be times when a manager has to step in and mediate to find a solution.

  • Don’t avoid conflict. When conflict is chronic, you can’t just close your eyes and hope it goes away. Deal with it right away to nip the situation in the bud. Otherwise the problem just goes underground until stress or a new disagreement brings it back to the surface.
  • Promote open communication. It’s natural when you’re not getting along with someone to completely stop talking with them, but that is counterproductive to squashing the conflict. Robert Half suggests using a two-pronged communication approach that involves both speaking and listening. Get both employees in the same room and ask them each what the issue is and hear out the responses.


  • Leave personal feelings at the door. Don’t let personal feelings or agendas muddy the conflict management process. Only rely on the facts surrounding the conflict so you can make a fair and unbiased decision.
  • Empower staff to be part of the solution. While it may be necessary for a manager to step in and help resolve a conflict, don’t leave the employees out of the solution. The Balance Careers suggests asking each party to describe three or four specific actions to resolve conflicts. Try to get three to four suggestions from each.

Mitigate Conflicts Before They Happen

The best way to resolve workplace conflicts is to prevent them from happening in the first place. One of the best ways to check the temperature of your staff’s tension is with a performance review.

Performance reviews allow managers to discuss objectives with their employees. Job descriptions can be adjusted according to workload or goals, so everyone is clear about their expectations (and no one is doing another’s work or trying to boss someone else around). Performance reviews also give employees the opportunity to provide feedback, keeping managers in the loop about how they really feel about their co-workers.

Using an employee performance tracking system not only helps managers set goals for employees, but promotes fair and equitable review standards so no one feels slighted. By regularly reviewing employees, you don’t only stay abreast of any conflicts, but your team is motivated to improve their quality of work. Plus, employees who are engaged, and given a clear path for advancement, will have a reason to stick around, reducing turnover.

Download our whitepaper, “8 Dos and Don’ts of Performance Reviews” to get the most out of your performance management process.