How To Manage Interpersonal Conflict in the Workplace

Are you a business owner or executive who has recently found yourself navigating the choppy waters of interpersonal conflict in the workplace? You're not alone! Here, you will discover how to handle challenging situations like these with the flair of a seasoned HR expert.

HR Managers, Executives, Leaders
Dec 2023

Are you a business owner or executive who has recently found yourself navigating the choppy waters of interpersonal conflict in the workplace? You're not alone! Here, you will discover how to handle challenging situations like these with the flair of a seasoned HR expert.

In this article, we'll help you navigate handling interpersonal conflict in the workplace, providing valuable strategies you can adopt. We will take the time to lay out the basics, like ‘What is interpersonal conflict?’, before moving on to the different types of interpersonal conflict in the workplace and strategies for handling those trickier situations. Whether it's a minor squabble over office fridge space or a major disagreement about project strategies, we can help you transform conflict into collaboration. 

What Is Interpersonal Conflict? 

Interpersonal conflict describes the friction that occurs when different viewpoints or work styles collide. In relationships, conflict is normal and inevitable when people have different opinions, values, or goals. In fact, 85% of employees experience some form of conflict in the workplace. Interpersonal conflict can occur on all levels of a business, including conflict between managers, supervisors, co-workers or other stakeholders in an organisation.

While interpersonal conflict may conjure images of heated and emotional confrontations, it's not inherently negative. When expertly navigated with the right tools, these conflicts can lead to innovation and create stronger team bonds. As HR professionals, a large part of our role is understanding the intricacies and nuances of interpersonal conflict in the workplace and transforming potential discord into meaningful dialogue.

Types of Interpersonal Conflict 

To successfully roll out methods of managing interpersonal conflict in the workplace, first, it’s essential to recognise the different types of interpersonal conflict and how they may present themselves in your workplace. Here are six main types of interpersonal conflict in the workplace:


This particular brand of conflict arises from workplace misunderstandings or miscommunications where employees have similar goals or intentions but fail to agree on how to move forward effectively.

For example, two team members, Ben and Alex, are preparing a workplace presentation. While Ben insists on using recently released software, Alex is adamant about sticking to a straightforward format like PowerPoint, causing friction between the two.

Fact Conflict

This type of conflict occurs over disagreements about certain information or facts.

Let’s watch this play out in an E-commerce business. At a monthly marketing meeting, a debate breaks out about the performance of last month's social media posts. While one team member interprets the results as a sign of growth, another views it as a decline.

Value Conflict

Value conflicts arise from the differing beliefs, ethics, or values of two or more individuals.

Here, we witness a value conflict: two HR managers are conflicted over a recruitment policy. One values experience over formal education, while the other believes in the opposite.

Policy Conflict

This type of conflict refers to disagreements regarding business procedures, rules, or policies.

If you were to peek behind the curtains of a marketing meeting at a real estate firm, you would discover the marketing department is split over a newly implemented social media policy. Some team members feel it's too restrictive, while others believe it's necessary for brand consistency.

Ego Conflict

Ego conflicts occur in the workplace when personal pride or the need to ‘win’ an argument becomes the domineering focus.

During a project meeting in the boardroom, two team leaders clash, each insisting their strategy or knowledge is superior. The conflict is less about the project and more about asserting personal dominance.

The Risks Caused by Interpersonal Conflict

While conflict is a natural part of our lives and the workplace, it shouldn’t impact an employee's comfort, nor their ability to fulfil their duties. Unaddressed interpersonal conflict in the workplace doesn’t just fade away; it can escalate and ultimately affect performance and morale. The negative effects of workplace conflict include an impacted company culture, decreased productivity, and worsened employee relationships. Ultimately, a workplace defined by ongoing conflict can reduce employee retention and inevitably affect the bottom line.

Zipdo reports that 20% of employees say that a conflict at work has caused them to fall behind on a deadline, and 92% of employees believe that a workplace resolving disputes in a timely manner is critical to their job satisfaction.

Certain workplace scenarios and environments are more prone to fostering interpersonal conflict. For instance, high-pressure situations, tight deadlines, or ambiguous roles can amplify stress and misunderstandings, acting as fertile ground for disputes to sprout. Managers must be prepared to manage interpersonal conflict in the workplace in these situations.

Prepare Your Business for Interpersonal Conflict 

Protecting your business against inevitable interpersonal conflicts begins with a strong HR foundation. The first step is developing and implementing clear procedures and policies that address conflict resolution. These guidelines should be documented and become a part of the company culture. If you require assistance establishing these guidelines, HR experts like HumanX, can help.

Training managers to recognise and address early signs of conflict is equally crucial. While training may take some initial time investment, equipping your management staff with the right tools and skills to successfully defuse tensions before they escalate will pay off in the long run.

It can be very distressing when employees find themselves in the heat of an interpersonal conflict. It is essential that they feel heard on these issues. Taking reports of conflict seriously and addressing them as soon as possible helps to reinforce a culture of safety and respect.

Managing Interpersonal Conflict in the Workplace

Establishing an HR framework that ensures when conflicts arise, they are managed effectively helps to minimise their impact on the company environment. So, let's delve into the art of managing interpersonal conflict in the workplace, turning challenges into opportunities for development.

If your workplace is currently scrambling to patch up recent staff run-ins, communication breakdowns, and decreased morale, it's time to pause, take a step back and assess the root cause of the situation. By taking the time to understand the signs of negative interpersonal conflict and implementing policies and HR foundations to manage conflict if it arises, your business will become an expert at managing interpersonal conflict in the workplace.

Let’s unpack the telltale signs of conflict:

Communication breakdown 

When team chats seemingly taper off with fewer collaborative conversations and more misunderstandings, it's a classic sign that conflict is brewing.

Productivity dip 

Another red flag that could signal a conflict’s draining effect is decreased team output and productivity.

Rise in absenteeism

A sudden increase in 'sick days' from various employees can sometimes speak louder than words, indicating avoidance of conflict situations.

Heightened workplace emotion

If employees are displaying short fuses, frustration or anger in interactions, this can be an indicator of deeper conflict.

If you have noticed some or all of the above signs in your workplace dynamic, it’s time to implement HR foundational strategies for handling interpersonal conflict from beginning to end. We aren’t recommending a band-aid approach but rather a robust conflict resolution framework within your HR strategy. Qualified HR consultants can help you implement the strategies below and more to turn conflict management into an opportunity to reinforce a positive work culture and enhance team dynamics.

Encourage Open Conversations

Facilitate Regular Check-ins: Create opportunities for team members to discuss potential issues before they escalate.

Develop a Safe Space for Dialogue: Ensure employees feel safe to voice their concerns without fear of retribution.

Promote Active Listening

Hold Training Workshops: Organise workshops to enhance listening skills, particularly among managers and team leaders.

Introduce a Feedback Mechanism: Implement a system where employees can provide feedback on their concerns being heard and addressed. This could be an anonymous mechanism to increase the chance of honest feedback.

Neutral Mediation

Use External Mediators: In complex conflicts, consider bringing in an external mediator for impartiality; this helps all sides feel heard and understood.

Introduce a Structured Mediation Process: Develop a clear, structured process for mediation that all parties are aware of and agree to.

Consistent Follow-Up

Continue Monitoring Post-Resolution: Regularly check in on the parties involved after a conflict has been resolved to gauge the well-being of all involved.

Adjust Policies as Needed: Be open to adjusting conflict resolution policies based on feedback and the effectiveness of previous resolutions.

By implementing these strategies within your HR framework, successfully handling interpersonal conflict will become more achievable. In time, you can transform once-challenging interpersonal conflicts into a more robust workplace.

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