Finding A Definition Of Conflict

Conflict means different things to different people. For some, a definition of conflict involves fighting, war, trade embargos and so on. For others, it may be a difference in opinion, perspective or personality.

One party may feel they are in a conflict situation, when the other party feels that they are just discussing opposing views. A lot depends on our personal "take" of the situation.

As managers, we need to be aware of how conflict arises and how to manage conflict. If unhealthy conflict is allowed to develop, the spin off effects can result in lasting damage to relationships and the business.

Conflict normally involves opposing views on one or more of the following:

These often overlap. When managing conflict in the workplace, be aware that conflict often manifests itself when employees experience:

  • an uneven distribution of workload
  • unequal treatment
  • personality differences
  • a lack of recognition

So as you can see, there are lots of opportunities for conflict! As a manager, you can take practical steps to minimise unhealthy conflict. Here I will cover two perspectives on the definition of conflict:

Role Conflict

Conflict generated around an employee's role is very common. Too often, employees are put in a new role and left to "sink or swim". Eager to make a good impression, they are may be reluctant to ask questions.

Over time, their manager is often disappointed when mistakes occur, or work is not done. They may even feel they have chosen the wrong person for the job. The employee can quickly became disillusioned and frustrated. Conflict almost inevitably follows.

To avoid this situation, invest time in meeting your employee at the early stages in a new role. Clarify:

  • what tasks have to be completed
  • how much authority the employee has to make decisions on their own
  • in what ways are they expected to use their initiative.

Avoid making the assumption that the employee thinks the same way as you do! What you might feel is straightforward, the employee could regard as complex. Discuss "what if" scenarios. Meet the employee on a regular basis to discuss progress and answer any queries.

Giving the employees the attention they need will minimise the chance of role conflict in the long term.

Team Conflict

Managing conflict in teams can be challenging as a number of people are involved. Again, destructive conflict can be minimised by investing time in the early stages. Clarify:

  • how you are going to use the individual strengths in the team
  • how you are going to divide out the tasks and measure success
  • what are the ground rules on how the team will work together and communicate.

In the early stages of teamwork, conflict is unavoidable as team members are unsure of their role. As a manager, you can help them move through this "Storming" stage quickly.

When the team becomes established, constructive conflict is healthy, once the views of all team members are listened to with respect. (Click on my Teamwork page for a description of team stages)


Click on Conflict Theory to read more about how conflict develops and what you can do to minimise destructive conflict.

If you are in a crisis conflict or near crisis situation, these Conflict Resolution Tips will give you some pointers to follow.


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