5 Early Signs of Workplace Conflict

Understanding the stages that occur before an individual or relationship breaks down at work can be key for understanding what needs to be done and how to do it. Increasingly it is what is expected from managers and employers in monitoring the workplace culture yet it is poorly understood and infrequently acted on. Frequently we are so focused on outcomes that we don’t pick up on those early signs of impact until it to too late and the damage is done – a crisis – where there is no further normal functioning of the relationship – a relationship breakdown and have to do something immediate to remedy it. These are five early signs to look out for in your workplace: 

  1. A feeling of discomfort – when the situation doesn’t feel comfortable for the individual/s although nothing may have been said.   
  2. Incidents – this is the next stage and occurs when small niggling incidents happen leaving people feeling awkward or irritated.
  3. Misunderstandings – Once that occurs it is a small step towards what usually follows - misunderstandings when communication is affected so that comments made are misinterpreted, and a general ‘communication breakdown’ occurs. Gossip is often a byproduct of relationships at this stage of dysfunction.
  4. Tension – This may continue for a time and involve others in the team or workplace and is characterised by tension in the workplace where the negative attitudes start to negatively affect the interactions between the parties.
  5. Crisis – At some point during this stage – which may depend on factors such as the resilience of the individual’s involved, how long the situation has been going on, the severity of the incidents, their workplace environment and supports systems etc – the individuals involved move into crisis – where there is no further effective functioning between the individuals – a relationship breakdown.  Usually at this stage everyone is impacted to some degree and the remedies and risk minimisation to get the team working together again become complex and time consuming.

Effectively resolving a workplace issue or complaint requires strategy and attention to both the causes and impacts of workplace conflict to achieve both personal insight and professional investment.  Developing a conflict management plan from the outset will help you to deal directly with the crisis at hand and progress towards successful resolution while also addressing any exposed cultural, capability or communication gaps in the area.  

susan whillas