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Subject 2 : WORKPLACE CONFLICT : Factors and Causes of Workplace Conflicts (Part 1)


This paper is an extract of my PHD Thesis in Leadership and Strategic Planing which was written during my studies at Atlantic International University (AIU) in 2018. I share it with the academic and workers communities to stimulate the research sentiment.



The focus of conflict researchers has not been on determining the causes of conflict (Deutsch, 1990; Wall & Callister, 1995). Various factors contribute to setting the stage for conflict to emerge. Dirks and Parks posited that the interdependence of the disputants, with actual or perceived differences in goals, values, or aims, who view the other party as potentially interfering with the attainment of those goals, values, or aims lead to conflict in the workplace (Dirks & Parks, 2003). Putnam and Poole (1987) viewed the competition for resources, coordination of systems, work distribution, and participation in decision making as key factors to conflict in organizations.

1.1. Causative factors of conflicts

Empirical research findings have provided insights into causative factors of workplace conflict. These include personal factors and structural factors.

1.1.1. Personal Factors as Sources of Workplace Conflicts

Various studies have pointed out that personal factors are among key sources of workplace conflicts. Hotepo, Asokere, Abdul – Azeez and Ajemunigbohun (2010) found lack of resources, different expectation, competition, lack of cooperation, interdependence and communication problems as factors that have caused conflicts in the Nigerian service industry. A Philippian study also conducted in the banking industry by Tsevendorj (2008) rated communication failure, perception, values and culture problems as moderately serious sources of conflict.

1.1.2. Conflict Personality and Misconduct

The personality of the Manager of the employee can contribute widely in raising tension and workplace conflicts. These include skills and abilities, personality conflicts, perceptions, diversity, and personal problems.

Managers’ or employees’ misconduct: Leaders, supervisors, managers and employees’ misconduct can contribute in worsening the workplace climate. For example, harassment, injustice, arbitrary and unethical decisions, absenteeism, laziness, careless, more disorganized, and irresponsible people, etc. In this category there can be some personality conflicts.

Personality conflicts occur very often in the workplace. One of the difficult personality traits is abrasiveness. This kind of person is often hardworking and achievement-oriented, but critical and insensitive toward feeling of others. Other personality traits that can encourage conflict are laziness and gossiping. A personality conflict can also be a consequence of differences in personality, attitudes and beliefs. Some people simply do not get along or do not view things similarly or just have different perceptions of situations (Whetten & Cameron, 2012)

The source of conflict among employees can be differences in age, cultural background, ethics, and values. For instance, a long-serving employee who feels loyal to the organization may have conflict with a young newcomer who sees the organization as a stepping stone in his future career (Whetten & Cameron, 2012).

  • Skills and Abilities: The members of departments or work teams have different levels of skills and abilities. For instance, conflict can appear when an employee with good experience must work with a novice who doesn’t have enough practical knowledge.


  • Personal Problems: When people bring their personal problems to work, their level of performance decreases. It is observed that employees with a bad mood and problems can argue with co-workers more (Whetten & Cameron, 2012).  One of the main reasons of personal problems can be the issue of keeping a balance between job and life. The important trend was discussed in a unique 25-years study of values in the United States: “employees have become less convinced that work should be an important part of one’s life or that working hard makes one a better person.


  • Discrimination : There are many conflicts in the organizations connected to discrimination. The term discrimination means “minority” groups, which include: ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, religious minorities, homosexuals, older people and women. All these groups are affected by prejudice. These groups have discrimination in daily life and at work. The term “prejudice” can be identified as an irrationally unfavorable attitude towards members of another group. Prejudice, which is pervasive in the organization, is expressed in discrimination. Discrimination reduces the chances of getting a job, to have equal earnings and to be promoted (Guirdham, 1999). Some of types of discrimination include direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, victimization, personal problems, etc.


  • Personal Bias: When evaluation criteria is not clearly defined, it creates room for evaluators to become biased (tendency to be base judgment on personal feelings –subjective) towards what they are evaluating and make the process more subjective. In normal process, evaluation criteria awards marks to each item, prior to performance, to enable evaluators to award marks in agreement with the employee. Where marks are not attributed prior to performance, the evaluator develops a tendency to award marks based on personal feelings and raise conflicts due to dissatisfaction from the side of the employee being evaluated (Angelina Muganza, 2014).

1.1.3. Low or Bad Style of Communication

Conflict is closely connected to communication. Hocker and Wilmot (1985) say that “communication is the central element in all interpersonal conflict”. According to those researchers, communication and conflict are related in three ways:

  • Communication behavior often creates conflict.
  • Communication behavior reflects conflict.
  • Communication is the vehicle for the productive or destructive management of conflict (Fleetwood, 1987).

Communication-based barriers may be the result of differences in speaking styles, writing styles, and nonverbal communication styles. Bad communication is based on misperceptions and misunderstandings among employees and as a result it can lead to long-standing conflict. Some of the barriers of productive communication can be the cross-gender and cross-cultural differences of employees. In this case people have differences in the ways of expressing themselves and how they are likely to interpret the communication with others (Victor, 2012). The most important barriers for communication are : filtering, selective perception, information overloaded, emotions, language, communication apprehension (anxiety in oral or written communication or both), etc. For communication apprehension, for example, some people prefer to use faxes and messages, even if a phone call would be not only faster but also more appropriate. In this case communication process suffers a lot and effectiveness of the organization decreases. Conflict situation may occur in this case (Robbins, 1996).

1.1.4. Structural Factors of Conflict at Workplace

Structural factors of conflicts at workplace have various structural factors. These include: specialization; common resources, goal differences, interdependence, authority relationships, roles and expectations, and jurisdictional ambiguities.

  • Specialization: Employees tend to become specialists in a job or get a general knowledge of many tasks. If most employees in an organization are specialists, it can lead to conflicts because they have little knowledge of each other’s job responsibilities. For instance, a receptionist at a camera repair store can say that a camera can be repaired in an hour, even though the repair will take a week. Since the receptionist does not know much about the technician’s job she should not give an unrealistic deadline when the camera will be ready. This situation can lead to conflict between the receptionist and the technician (skiemman.is/en/ category/view).


  • Common Resources: In many work situations, we must share resources. The scarcer the resource in the organization, the greater the chance for a conflict situation. Resource scarcity leads to a conflict because each person that needs the same resources necessarily undermines others who pursue their own goals. Limited resources may include money, supplies, people or information. For example, The Redmond Washington based Software Company may dominate several markets, but its staff members still disagree over limited resources (Mcshare & Glinow, 2008). Sartorial support computer time can contribute to conflict. Considering the company that installs a new computer for administrative and research purpose, at first, there is plenty of computer time and space for both uses. However, as both factions make more and more use of the computer, access becomes a problem, and conflict may erupt at this point.


  • Goal Differences: Very often, the possibility of conflict increases substantially when departments in the organization have different or incompatible goals. For instance, the goal of a computer salesperson is to sell many computers as fast as possible. The manufacturing facility may, however, be unable to meet the sales person’s promises. In this case, conflict may occur as two persons have different goals (skemman.is/en/category/view).


  • Interdependence: The possibility of conflict usually tends to increase with the level of task interdependence. When a person must depend on someone else to complete his/her task, it becomes easier to blame a co-worker when something goes wrong. As a rule, interdependence exists when team members must interest in the process of work and receive outcomes which depend on the performance of others (skemman.is/en/category/view).


  • Authority Relationships: In many companies, there is an underlying tension between managers and employees because most people do not like being told what they must do. In many organizations, managers have privileges (flexible hours, free personal long-distance calls, and longer breaks). It is observed that very strict managers often have conflicts with their employees. Sometimes people try to engage in conflict to increase their power or status in an organization (skemman.is/em/category/view).


  • Roles and Expectations: A role is a behavior that is expected from an employee. Every employee has one or more roles in the organization. These roles include such elements as job title, description of duties, and agreement between the employee and the organization. Manager– subordinate conflict can result when the subordinate’s role is not clearly determined, and each party has a different understanding of that role (Whitlam & Cameron, 2012).


  • Jurisdictional Ambiguities: When the lines of responsibility in an organization are uncertain, then jurisdictional ambiguities appear. Employees tend to pass unwanted responsibilities to another person when responsibilities are not clearly stated (skemman.is/en/category/view). Ambiguous goals, jurisdictions, or performance criteria can lead to conflict. Under such ambiguity, the formal and informal rules that govern interaction break down. Ambiguous jurisdictions are often revealed when new programs are introduced. This is a common occurrence in universities. Ambiguous performance criteria are a frequent cause of conflict between superiors and subordinates.


Remarks : If you want to cite this article, write : GIRUKWAYO P., “The impact of effective leadership of workplace conflicts, PHD Thesis, AIU, 2018”. Then you will add the link.

Note  (other similar extract of the thesis):

You will see the Part 1  at :


You will see the 2nd  part at :


And you will see the 3rd part at :


Second subject on factors of conflicts (Part 1) at :


Second subject on factors of conflicts (Part 2) at :



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