1. Interpersonal Conflict on Your Team: The Causes - Innolect, Inc.

1. Interpersonal Conflict on Your Team: The Causes

When not addressed properly, conflict can wreak havoc on your team, increase employee turnover and impact your reputation as a leader. Conflict management is one of the biggest fears and struggles of those who lead working teams, and for good reason! U.S. employees spend approximately 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict. If not addressed early, this conflict can consume up to 40% of a manager’s time. Additionally, since the pandemic, more people are working in remote or hybrid environments, making it more difficult to spot and resolve conflict when it occurs.

In order to lead your teams effectively through conflict, it is important to understand the main triggers and causes of the tension so that you can address it in a timely manner:


3 Main Causes

  1. Communication differences and misunderstandings:

Differences in communication styles, in general, leave room for misinterpretation. With the increase in the use of quick replies through email, text and chat platforms, misunderstandings occur more frequently. For example, answering “Yes” to a series of questions in an email may not fully clarify what is being agreed upon or approved. 

Overall, digital communication has a large margin of error, especially when the parties involved are not interacting in real time. Teams that rely mostly on emails and chat are more susceptible to unintended conflict, as clear communication often relies on nonverbal cues. In these situations, communication is not key — comprehension is.

Even when team members are face-to-face, issues of communication can arise. Professional relationships are human relationships–which are inevitably fraught with misunderstandings. A wrongly placed, unintentional word during a stressful situation can drive a wedge between two co-workers, as can a perceived eye-roll or exaggerated sigh. It is not uncommon for team members to have vastly different styles of communication and tones of expression. Misunderstandings abound in this scenario which can inhibit direct collaboration. 

Additionally, when team members do not share relevant information with each other, people may make decisions or take actions that others consider inappropriate and/or harmful. Blame and questions about motives can result, creating discord among the team. 


2. Unclear performance standards and policies:

A major mistake many leaders make is quantifying and tracking absolutely everything their team members do, out of an effort to measure performance. When this happens, many direct reports are taken by surprise. Team members struggle to understand how their work is being interpreted and which tasks they are supposed to prioritize. Lack of clarity about tasks, strategies or goals can lead people to make invalid assumptions that others neither share nor agree with– which again, can result in conflict.

When standards and expectations are left open to interpretation, they negatively impact interpersonal relationships on teams and undermine performance. Additionally, when some team members do not contribute their share of effort or are not performing at the expected level of quality, the impositions that result can create friction, which is exacerbated when critical or highly visible tasks are involved.

Sometimes it is policy itself at the root of a team’s interpersonal conflict. For example, when a leader assigns a project to a team, the members may disagree on the best way to complete it or which tasks should be prioritized. Members may also compete over the limited resources available to accomplish the team’s tasks. For example, if two people rely on a third person to meet their individual deadlines, disagreements and resentments can arise over whose work should receive that person’s attention first.


3. Unreasonable time constraints and undefined expectations:

Workplace conflict can also arise when team members are misaligned on timing or deadlines. This often occurs when peers are collaborating on a project, and one person misinterprets the time it will take their partner to complete a task. As a result, they may expect more of each other than is reasonable, contributing to overall organizational conflict. 

In addition, leaders themselves can sometimes set unreasonable deadlines and time constraints on team members, or fail to define expectations for individual team members. When everyone assumes that someone else is responsible for completing a task, balls are inevitably dropped, leading to finger-pointing, blame and missed deadlines. This results in bruised relationships as well as reduced effectiveness and productivity.


How Can Innolect Help?

Now that you understand the main triggers and causes of conflict in the workplace, keep an eye out for our upcoming blogs on the impacts and solutions to interpersonal conflict (plus, a bonus blog on harnessing conflict to fuel your team’s creativity!). 

At Innolect, we help build the foundation for you to bring your best self to work, and we thrive on building high-integrity workplaces. The bottom line? We are committed to helping leaders live with purpose as they develop and grow themselves, their teams and their organizations. Learn more about our approaches HERE.

As interpersonal conflict within your working teams can be difficult for leaders to manage, our Innolect consultants are available to help you handle them with grace. To set up a consultation or training, contact us today. Additionally, our products and assessments help leaders develop the skills and capabilities needed to grow exponentially. Consider ordering our latest book for you and your team: Ignite Your Imagination: 21 Ways to Learn.


Contact us to schedule a consultation:


(803) 396-8500


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