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Why Conflicts in the Workplace Escalate

Recognising Friction in the Workplace

Friction occurs when objects rub together and results in a slowing down of their movement.

Friction in the workplace results from destructive conflict. It leads to the slowing down of the interactions between people and causes processes and relationships to stop working well. It is therefore highlighted by some clear signs that you need to be able to recognize. These are

  • ineffective communication, 
  • hostility between individuals, 
  • hostility between groups. 

Ineffective communication

Poor communication leads to poor coordination between parts of the workforce, and duplication of effort. Information may be held by one party and deliberately not given to others, or not sought, so that a lack of information can be used as an excuse for ignoring rules and regulations.

Group hostility

Groups may blame other groups, without justification, for their own problems. They may form temporary alliances to work against each other, or become so concerned with preserving their territories that they would rather fail than cooperate.

Group hostility is described as institutional hostility if everyone occupying one function in a company is in disagreement with everyone from another function — for example, if all the accountants refuse to cooperate with anyone on the sales team.

Personal hostility

Personal hostility makes all arguments personal, so that the focus is no longer on the real issues involved. Disagreements may escalate to include physical and verbal intimidation, often based on stereotyping and labeling.

Personal conflict can be very damaging to a company. If one or several employees are more interested in undermining or embarrassing one of their colleagues — possibly through deliberately communicating badly (withholding information, providing false information, etc.) — there is little chance of them working productively on anything together.

If productivity is suffering, look for the symptoms of communication issues, and group and personal hostility. They are the signs that you must watch for, because they signal conflict working destructively in your company.

Rule Overload Creates and Consolidates Conflict

One way to recognize destructive conflict in the workplace is to look at the extent of the rules and regulations that exist in an organization.

Rules and regulations are a necessary part of any organization, but in organizations which are suffering a lot of conflict, rules and regulations — open or hidden — will proliferate.