Business study- human resources

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Workplace Disputes and their Management Strategies

Workplace Disputes and their Management Strategies


Workplace conflicts are a phenomenon that is bound to occur in an organization at one time or the other. Because people have different values and personalities, conflicts just become inevitable in any workplace. Diamond (2011, p. 2) defines workplace conflict as to the differences in needs, values, expectation and wants in the workplace. As such, when employees have different values, expectation, needs and wants from those of the management, then a conflict is just bound to occur. Wall and Callister (1995, p. 518) study show that managers spend about 25% of their time solving disputes. Organizational conflicts results from a variety of causes, which can be positive or negative. However, the managers must ensure that conflicts are effectively managed to minimize the risk of it spiraling into a full blown out dispute. This paper describes the causes of workplace disputes and the strategies that managers can adopt in resolving them.

Causes of Workplace Disputes

Disputes are likely to arise in the workplace at one time or the other. The disputes can be among the employees themselves or between the employees and the management. In fact, there is no organization whatsoever that is immune from disputes because disputes arise from different sources some of which an organization might limited or no control over. The first major cause of dispute in organizations is differences in personalities. Branham (2005, p. 16) argues that people come from different cultural backgrounds and experiences that influence their personalities. This is especially so in the modern workplace that is made of employees from different nationalities, races, religions and nationalities. However, when employees fail to embrace the uniqueness in each other’s personalities, disputes sets in, thereby making it difficult for the employees to work together, thereby resulting in a dispute (Diamond 2011, p. 23). For instance, an employee might happen to be an extrovert with outgoing personality, resulting in the employee speaking his/her mind even when the timing appears not appropriate. Such an employee might offend a colleague who is an introvert because of the personality differences.

Misunderstanding resulting from poor communication is another common cause of disputes in organizations. Effective communication is critical in the maintenance of piece and a work environment where employees understand and gets along with each other well. However, whenever there is a breakdown in communication, disputes are bound to arise. Communication breakdown can result from a variety of sources, including clash in communication styles or failure to communicate (CPP, Incorporated 2002, p. 11). For instance, a situation might occur in an organization where a supervisor or manager has reassigned a worker from a given task to another but fails to communicate the reassignment to the employee. Such a situation might make the employee who has been reassigned from a task to feel slighted, thereby creating tension and antagonism between the two employees and the supervisor.

Unhealthy competition among employees is another common cause of workplace disputes. Wall and Callister (1995, p. 515) noted that some industries promote competition among employees more than others. The insurance industry in particular promotes competition among sales representatives which sometime cause a clash between employees. It has been noted that, whenever a company has pegged remuneration based on employee productivity, such a policy creates competition among workers. Therefore, if not properly managed, the competing workers can start sabotaging or abusing each other, thereby creating a hostile work environment. Such an unhealthy workplace is detrimental to the success of an organization because it discourages teamwork as it only serves to promote individualism.

Poor leadership is another main cause of disputes in an organization. Leadership is key to effective running of an organization. Branham (2005, p. 22) argues that, whenever good leadership is lacking, conflict is bound to arise. It has been shown that poor leadership tends to trigger a dispute between the employees and their supervisors and managers because ineffective leadership creates frustration. Frustration resulting from poor leadership is one of the reasons cited by workers for resigning from their jobs, according to Branham. This follows a study that Branham conducted with about 20,000 employees that found that poor leadership was the main reason the majority of the employees interviewed quick their jobs (Branham 2005, p. 12).

Stress is another major cause that has been seen to trigger disputes in the workplace. Tress in the workplace arises from many sources, such as in situations where an employee is assigned a job that they are not able to handle (CPP, Incorporated 2002, p. 34). Stress can also result in situations where employees are given unrealistic deadlines that they are not able to beat. Additionally, workplace stress can result where employees are not given the necessary resources they need to perform their jobs effectively. Under such situations, stress sets in; this causes frustrations that in most cases culminate into a dispute between the employees and the managers and supervisors.

Additionally, workplace dispute is caused by a clash in values. Like personality, the values of employees differ from one worker to another. Differences are values manifest especially in the workplace that is characterized by generational differences (Wall and Callister 1995, p. 521). For instance, generation X and millennial employees’ poses different values from those of the baby boomers. The existence of generational gap often cause disputes in the workplace because attempting to force collaboration between employees with varied opinions, work styles, and thought processes will just trigger a conflict. For instance, the older generation may have conservative thought and show preference for business-as-usual practices and this might conflict with the millennial employees that may be highly dependent on technology. Besides, when employees do not accept differences, the employees might begin to insult each other’s experiences and characters, thereby triggering a dispute in the workplace.

Moreover, poor work environment is a major cause of disputes in the workplace. Every employee wants to be provided with a safe and healthy workplace. Therefore, when this is lacking, a dispute is bound to arise. Wall and Callister (1995, p. 517) observed that poor working environment is one of the main reasons employees resign from their jobs or go on strike. Other causes of disputes in the workplace include unfair treatments, bullying and harassments, lack of equal opportunities and unclear job roles.

Strategies used to Resolve Workplace Disputes

Although conflicts in an organization can sometimes be positive, such as when it involves culture, the majority of disputes have negative implication on an organization. Whenever there is a dispute in an organization and the management fails to resolve them on time and effectively, this might not only impact negatively on corporate image of a firm, but also create a poor working relationship between employees and the management or trigger mass resignation of employees (Diamond 2011, p. 44). As such, identifying the sources of disputes and resolving them before they blow out of hand is very critical. Fortunately, there are a number of strategies that managers and supervisors can adopt in resolving the causes of disputes discussed above.

Firstly, whenever there is a dispute in the workplace, the first thing that a manager should do is to act immediately. Disputes never end and when conflicts are ignored and left unresolved, they can lie dormant for sometimes only to explode later own (Branham 2005, p. 28). In fact, dispute avoidance is one of the claims that are being made against employers. Employees that make such claims feel that the employer is not listening to them or doing something to address their concerns. Managers must understand that, when conflicts are not resolved on time, they spread and affect the entire organization, including those employees that were not initially involved. This in turn affects productivity, commitment, performance and relationships. As such, the first step in resolving disputes is to act immediately and never to ignore or wait.

Secondly, a manager should organize a formal meeting with the people involved in dispute separately. Meeting the conflicting parties separately is important because it gives the manager a chance to understand the issues before taking action. Diamond (2011, p. 66) notes that people have divergent perceptions regarding what has transpired. Therefore, understanding the concerns of the conflicting parties separately will enable a manager to focus on things that are important to each individual and find a common ground. Besides, the manager must ensure that both sides are given a chance to speak their views without being ridiculed.

Thirdly, the manager should teach employees to appreciate their differences. As discussed above, differences in personalities and values are some of the main reasons for disputes in organization. However, as the globalization continues to impact organizations, businesses will continue to become more diverse, thereby bringing people of different cultural backgrounds together. As such, Branham (2005, p. 32) suggests that managers must focus on teaching employees to embrace their differences. For instance, managers should focus on introducing cultural competency programs to teach employees to appreciate their uniqueness and differences as this would help address the problem of personality and value clashes in the workplace.

Once a manager has understood the concerns of the disputing individuals, the next thing is to act decisively by providing a solution that can be accepted by all the parties involved in the dispute. In this respect, the manager can use Thomas-Kilmann’s conflict model in arriving at the best solution. Kilmann’s model provides five different conflict management styles that managers can adopt. They include accommodating, collaborating, avoiding, accommodating and compromising (fig.1) (CPP, Incorporated 2002, p. 3). However, as indicated previously, avoiding is not appropriate when addressing workplace disputes.

Business study- human resources

Source: CPP, Incorporated (2002)


Workplace disputes are inevitable and are bound to occur at one time or the other because people have different personalities and values. As discussed in the paper, workplace disputes result from many sources, including personality clash, poor communication, and poor leadership, clash of values, poor work environment, stress, and unhealthy competition among others. Because conflicts are inevitable in the workplace, resolving them effectively before they get out of hand is very important. This can be achieved by adopting a variety of strategies, which includes acting immediately, hearing the disputing parties, teaching employees to appreciate differences and promoting healthy work environment.


Branham, L 2005, The 7 hidden reasons employees leave: how to recognize the subtle signs and act before it’s too late. AMACOM, New York.

CPP, Incorporated 2002, Thomas-Kilmann conflict mode instrument. CPP, Incorporated, New York.

Diamond, A 2011, Conflict in the workplace: causes and cures. Robertson Publishing, Mason, OH.

Wall, J. A., & Callister, R. R 1995, “Conflict and Its management,” Journal of Management, vol. 21, no. 3, 515-558.