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Handling conflict at work

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Use this page to understand different types of workplace conflict, why conflict happens, and how to resolve it.

This guidance has been designed for people who manage paid members of staff. We have separate guidance on solving volunteer problems.

Types of conflict at work

Conflict at work can be informal or formal.

Informal conflict may involve a minor clash or disagreement between two people.

Formal conflict may involve a claim brought against your organisation in an employment tribunal.

Every situation involving conflict will be different, but most tend to fall into two categories:

  • conflict between individuals, involving colleagues/employees and their managers
  • conflict between groups, involving teams or departments/larger groups of employees.

Examples of conflict include:

  • two employees not getting on
  • an individual with a grievance against another member of staff
  • rivalry between teams or departments
  • a lack of trust and cooperation between groups of employees and management.

If you’re a manager, your team will be looking to you to resolve the conflict and restore harmony.

Causes of conflict

Conflict at work can have many causes. Examples include:

  • poor management
  • unfair treatment
  • unclear job roles
  • inadequate training
  • poor communication
  • a poor working environment
  • lack of equal opportunities
  • bullying or harassment
  • personality clashes between individuals
  • unresolved problems from the past
  • increases in workload
  • differing values
  • needs and expectations at work.

Resolving conflict

Often an issue can be resolved with a quiet word between individuals.

But sometimes you’ll need to follow your organisation's internal procedures. For example, if an employee makes a formal complaint against their manager, they’ll need to follow their organisation’s grievance procedure.

If someone is found (after investigation) to be harassing another employee, the organisation may need to take disciplinary action.

Useful skills

Resolving conflict at work requires many different skills, including:

  • active listening
  • communication
  • consultation
  • problem solving
  • decision making
  • negotiation and in some cases
  • knowledge of employment law.

Mediation

Mediation is where an impartial person supports people involved in conflict to find a solution. It can be a particularly helpful way to resolve disputes between individuals.

You could train staff members as mediators, or use a professional external mediator.

Acas can train your staff in mediation or provide external mediators.

Crux offers mediation services for a range of settings.

Further information

Last reviewed: 01 August 2022

Help us improve this content

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 01 August 2022

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