Organizational Wellness

Workplace Conflict Examples (And Resolutions)

May 15, 2024
Last Updated May 15, 2024

Have you ever experienced friction at work due to clashing work styles or personalities? It's not uncommon, as disagreement is inevitable even in the most professional settings. Workplace conflicts can lead to a loss of productivity, absenteeism, high turnover, and other negative consequences – including costing businesses an estimated $369 billion in annual losses

So, if conflict is inevitable, what steps can HR and leaders take to identify and resolve workplace conflicts effectively? 

Recognizing the signs of conflict is the first step toward creating a constructive approach. Here are some examples to help you recognize and manage workplace conflicts, and ways to address them to improve your organization’s operations!


5 Workplace Conflict Examples

Before you can identify the best approach to resolving conflict, it’s important to classify what type of conflict you are dealing with. Many issues fall into these five categories, which can help you diagnose what to do.

Discrimination or Harassment

Both of these conflicts are discrimination due to illegal treatment of an employee. Discrimination is the unfair or unfavorable treatment in the workplace due to an employee's ethnicity, culture, sexuality, gender identity, or other protected characteristic, which is prohibited by federal lawHarassment is a kind of discrimination that includes unwelcome conduct that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Here is just one situation that falls into the discrimination category:

  • Conflict: A manager in your organization has a hearing-impaired employee on their team. Despite requests from the employee for captioned telephone systems, the manager has failed to do more than vaguely suggest that he will look into it.
  • Solution: Whether the situation involves unwanted attention from a coworker or failure to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, the steps you take to resolve the issue are essentially the same: Take action as soon as the issue becomes apparent. Ask the employee to share their story and make detailed notes about any relevant information, like dates, times, and witnesses. Follow up with the complaint by performing a fair (and where necessary, discrete) investigation of both parties to further clarify and resolve the issue.

With discrimination laws come penalties — steep penalties, often in the form of fines. How steep? Approximately $20 billion, which is the combined amount that U.S. companies had to pay out in 2021 for liability related to workplace misconduct. 

On the other hand, if you can identify and resolve the issue quickly and fairly, you demonstrate your commitment to promoting a non-discriminative workplace. Depending on the situation, bringing in an objective third party for mediation may be appropriate. 

Personality Conflicts

We all approach work a little bit differently. Introverted or extroverted, detail-oriented or big picture—there are all sorts of factors that affect our relationships with coworkers. But sometimes different personalities don’t collaborate as well as hoped. Stress often comes from interpersonal issues, also called personality conflicts. It’s usually not anything intentional or antagonistic, either, just two different people who approach life in two different ways.

For example:

  • Conflict: A manager feels as though an employee is not a team player because they do not attend team lunches or seek out opportunities to socialize. The employee prefers to keep to herself and doesn’t see any reason why she should have to ‘be friends’ with their coworkers as long as she’s getting her work done. 
  • Solution: The first thing you can do when addressing personality conflicts is to look at performance metrics. Is the employee contributing to the success of the business? If so, and if the personality difference isn’t negatively impacting the work, then it may be best to tell the manager to let the employee be. Being a little introverted isn’t a crime against the company, right? 

If, on the other hand, the conflict is creating tension or otherwise hurting the work, consider opening a dialogue between both parties. Openly discussing the issue, its impacts, and possible solutions can help align opposing personalities for better business results.

Although these kinds of conflicts may seem inconsequential, they can balloon into bigger problems. (Or, worse, remain completely quiet until one of the parties decides to quit). Executive coaching can help you develop a better understanding of opposing personality types and how to bring them together for effective collaboration.

Background-Based Conflict

Similar to personality, different backgrounds can cause two employees to view or approach a situation very differently. Any of the following types of diversity can influence this kind of conflict:

  • Culture
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Upbringing
  • Geographic region
  • Economic status
  • Religion
  • Prior work history

It’s important to recognize that our perception is based on our experiences. Here’s what a background-based conflict might look like: 

  • Conflict: A manager is a Gen-Xer, who values straightforwardness in the workplace above people skills. She tells her employees exactly what they’re doing wrong and doesn’t bother sugarcoating it. The employee is a Millennial who puts more weight in interpersonal competence and feels as though the manager is being unnecessarily harsh.
  • Solution: Acknowledging that different backgrounds don’t necessarily mean incompatible backgrounds is one route to resolve this conflict-at-work example. Both parties can better understand the merit of different approaches and make a conscious effort to accommodate each other's values to reach a shared goal.

Background-based conflicts manifest themselves in many different ways. Ultimately, diversity is good for business — having employees with different viewpoints working together allows for a greater range of ideas, which also boosts profitability — so it’s worth the effort of active management. Employee surveys can help you identify where different backgrounds might be creating friction. Additionally, the right team-building activities can do wonders for helping dissimilar individuals better understand one another.

Interdependence Conflict

When you work as part of an organization, it’s pretty much assumed that you’re going to be collaborating as part of a larger group. The downside is that sometimes teams operate under a complicated chain of sequences, which impacts team dynamics. When one employee in that process fails to do their part at the right time and place, others could be left in the lurch. 

  • Conflict: A graphic designer has a tight deadline that’s fast approaching, but they can’t finalize their part of the project without access to the associated written content. The content writer tends to wait until the last minute to finish their part of the project, which always leaves the graphic designer scrambling to do their part within an extremely limited window. This has begun to affect the quality of the designers' work.


  • Solution: The solution to interdependence is often to simply follow up with the manager to get a clearer picture of the processes and dependent factors. If there is one deadline for the entire project, then it’s the last person in the sequence who will always feel the most pressure. Go back to the drawing board to create a more accurate workflow, taking into account individual deadlines and prioritizing communication and transparency. This helps everyone know exactly where the project stands and who is responsible at each stage.

Remember, the key here is not to do away with the team structure. It’s just to make sure that the processes accurately reflect what is expected of the team on an individual level, and that they include contingencies for when one step starts to lag. Not only can this help manage team conflict, but it also boosts team effectiveness, too.

Leadership Conflict

Finally, there is leadership conflict. Leadership conflict typically occurs when a person in a management position applies a specific leadership or communication style that is at odds with an employee’s preferred work methodologies. Sometimes this turns into an undesirable my-way-or-the-highway situation, but more often, it slows down processes and creates dissatisfaction in the workplace.

  • Conflict: A manager on one of the teams prefers to take a hands-off approach, allowing team members to set their own project deadlines and determine their own workflows. One of the employees prefers clearly established directions and wants the manager to tell them what to do and when. 
  • Solution: In this case, making expectations clearly known is usually the best place to start. The manager can start by meeting with the employee to discuss management preferences. Keep in mind that although part of the manager's job is to support the employee, they should not be expected to handle every decision or micromanage every project. The employee will need to work with the manager one-on-one to find a more satisfactory arrangement.

At the end of the day, it helps to be objective about your leadership style and consider how well that style matches the needs or wants of individual team members. There’s no shame in reconsidering your leadership approach, either. In fact, 63% of executives consider leadership development as their top priority for the success of their organizations, according to Brimco. Setting specific goals and clearly defining responsibilities for both parties can also help leadership conflicts resolve themselves. 

Keys to Managing Conflict in the Workplace

Looking through these categories and workplace conflict examples, you may notice that many of the solutions contain a common theme: understanding and coordination.

As you approach workplace conflict within your company culture, consider these elements:

  • Effective communication. Conflict involves people, and getting to the heart of the conflict demands that you work with the people involved. That’s how you improve the ways you share expectations and workshop solutions. Attentive listening and clear workplace communication are especially effective here. 
  • Honest evaluation. As mentioned, personality and background often define our perceptions. However, that doesn’t mean you should allow unconscious biases or preconceptions to tint your decisions. Be objective as you evaluate workplace conflicts, and if you feel like you're not objective enough, bring in an impartial third party to provide a fair evaluation. 
  • Goal-oriented collaboration. In most cases, finding a solution will require everyone involved to set aside their differences and work together. Still, this is difficult to do without a clear objective. Work to make sure that all parties are committed to the goal of resolving the situation, and that they realize the problem is the enemy, not the other person involved in the conflict. 
  • Complete documentation. Resolving conflict can be difficult, and when the happiness and future of your people or company are on the line, it’s wise to document everything you do. Keep detailed records of workplace conflicts, the parties involved, and the steps you take to find a solution. This will not only help you more clearly identify the solutions that work (and those that don’t), but it will also help you protect your business in cases of liability.

Support Team Members with Wellbeing Programs

At its worst, interpersonal conflict can slow your business to a halt and drive away your best talent. But it doesn't have to be that way! When handled properly, conflict can be a great opportunity to implement improvements to your organization.  Becoming familiar with the different types of workplace conflicts can help you take control of the situation, putting everyone on the course to thrive. 

Another critical aspect of every employee doing their best at work is their wellness. And just like everyone has different personalities, they also have unique wellbeing needs. With 87% of workers saying they would consider leaving a company that does not focus on employee wellbeing, a personalized approach is more important than ever. An amazing and supportive employee wellness program may be the missing piece to your employee health puzzle!

Work with a Wellbeing Specialist today to learn more about how our wellbeing program can support all your team members.

Company healthcare costs drop by up to 35% with Wellhub! (* Based on proprietary research comparing healthcare costs of active Wellhub users to non-users.) Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist to see how we can help reduce your healthcare spending!


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Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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