Unresolved Co-worker Conflict Can Cause Serious Outcomes

This is not a new situation……. one of your employees does not get along with another one of your employees but they have to work together on a regular basis. This is one of the most difficult situations you will face as a manager.

You do not want to have to mediate in every little disagreement because these situations are somewhat unavoidable, however, you do not want to let major conflicts go unaddressed. There are lots of resources offering approaches for conflict resolution, however, tips are useless if you have decided not to address the conflict at all. Unresolved conflict can be highly detrimental to your team, your organization, and even to you as a manager.

Many managers make this mistake because they are afraid of handling co-worker conflict. So, instead of identifying a conflict management technique that works best, they avoid the situation altogether.

This is a poor decision even though many managers believe stepping in will turn the resentment on them, and they will lose the ability to communicate with their employees leaving the problem to fester will only make it worse in the long run.

Avoiding the issue is not the way to go. Here are four reasons why:

  1. It can create an “us vs. them” attitude among your workforce which will affect productivity and efficiency.
    When two employees are at odds with each other, other employees can tell. Friends of the involved employees are likely to get pulled into the office gossip about the conflict and then take sides. It sounds juvenile but adults are not immune to the effects of a workplace conflict. Once a large part of your workforce is divided, a competition mindset is then created. Employees involved in the co-worker conflict are no longer thinking about what is best for the company rather they are just figuring out how to “beat” the “other side.” This creates a toxic work environment for your company because a large part of organizational success depends on the ability of your employees to keep the company’s overall goals in mind. Co-worker conflict obstructs this view and cooperation and collaboration will be avoided as everything will just become a competition.
  2. It can cause poor performance of the employees involved.
    Conflict rarely dies down on its own. Rather, it typically snowballs until it affects everyone’s job performance. Managers might typically believe that the trend is the opposite, which means the conflict will affect job performance a little at the beginning, but eventually, the employees will get bored with it and move on. If you want to effectively manage conflict, you must move past this fallacy and introduce some problem-solving approaches to resolve the issue before it affects work outcomes. Employees who do not like each other are more likely to suffer from a lack of focus, absenteeism, and poor work quality because they are so absorbed by the conflict.
  3. It can create a poor image of your company online.
    With today’s widespread use of social media, you need to make sure that the conflict does not spill onto social media as this will adversely affect the public image of your organization. Rather, it might be a good idea to institute a company policy of no airing of in-house issues online. If you do not have such a policy you better be beware of the effect co-worker conflict can have on your online presence. Employees who are involved in conflict at the office can complain about their situation on their blogs, Twitter feed, and Facebook pages. While they may not mean to harm your company’s name, it is easy to glance at the “About Me” section of a profile and see where they work. These negative online comments can discourage prospective candidates from applying for a job at your company and could even affect those who you might want to attract as customers/clients.
  4. It can cause high turnover.
    Co-workers who are unhappy at work are highly unlikely to want to stay with the company. Therefore, unless co-worker conflict is managed, you can expect to see more turnover of employees and we all know that is very expensive and disruptive to an organization. This may not be limited to only the employees involved in the co-worker conflict, as other employees who are not directly involved, may not like to be in a toxic environment that features arguing, discontent, and bad vibes.

The effects of unaddressed co-worker conflict can quickly spiral out of control. That is why it is so important to make sure that you learn effective conflict management skills so that these issues can be addressed as soon as they arise. The longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes to resolve.

6 Outcomes of Co-worker Conflict

Once you realize that several of your employees are not getting along, here are 6 possible outcomes you can expect from conflict among coworkers:

  1. Both parties work out their differences, rise above the situation, and move on.
  2. Both parties agree to disagree, but get past it and move on.
  3. Both parties say they have moved on, but one or both secretly harbors continued ill will. Negativity lurks and performance soon begins to drop.
  4. One party sucks it up and acquiesces while the other seemingly “wins.” In this scenario, the conflict is likely to continue.
  5. The “wrong” party won’t budge and needs to be removed from the department and possibly let go.
  6. The situation is intolerable for both workers and they both leave.

Some would argue that creative tension among peers and coworkers can yield superior results due to the competition and rivalry that is formed.

You’ve probably encountered people in your personal or professional lives who always seem to be mired in drama and have a knack for dragging others into their issues. If you think “Here we go again” regarding one of the employees involved in the conflict, then that’s probably a sign that the person needs to change their attitude or be sacrificed. Some would argue that creative tension among peers and coworkers can yield superior results due to the competition and rivalry that is formed. While this might true on a project basis, it can easily establish a permanent “us-versus-them” culture that devolves into a poisonous work environment for everyone.

Tips for Resolving and Avoiding Co-worker Conflict

What can you do to resolve co-worker conflict? Each situation will be different, but here are some ways to deal with feuding employees so that future issues can be dealt with more successfully.

  • Meet with the feuding co-workers to see if you can remedy the situation. Do this quickly to avoid letting it fester and spiral out of control.
  • Alert your boss to the situation so that they are not blindsided by any necessary disciplinary actions now or in the future.
  • Involve HR as necessary, which could be as an independent mediator, to put difficult employees on notice or probation, or to begin the process of transferring the troublemakers to another department or location.
  • Advocate an environment of respect, tolerance, and civility in the office.
  • Maintain an open dialogue with your employees. Freely sharing information and updates on the company and department can quell the need for gossip and rumors.
  • Review your policies on the use of company email and social media sites. Some disgruntled employees may take their rants online either within or outside of the company. Know your company’s electronic media policies and communicate them to all employees.

In the end, one must remember that conflict is a natural part of human interaction and does not always have to have negative outcomes.  It mainly depends upon how it is handled and how quickly.  So do not let conflict go unaddressed or you will suffer some dire consequences.


Sandy Chernoff
Sandy Chernoff
SANDY'S 30 years of didactic and clinical teaching in study clubs and continuing dental education, coupled with her almost 40 years of Dental Hygiene practice bring a wealth of experience to her interactive soft skills workshops. With her education background she easily customizes interactive sessions to suit the specific needs of her clients. Her energetic and humorous presentation style has entertained and informed audiences from Victoria to New York City. Sandy’s client list includes law firms, teaching institutions, volunteer and professional organizations and conferences, businesses, and individuals. Her newest project is turning her live workshops into e-learning programs using an LMS platform. Her teaching and education background have helped her to produce meaningful and somewhat interactive courses for the learners wanting the convenience of e-learning options. As the author of 5 Secrets to Effective Communication, Sandy has demonstrated her ability to demystify the complexities of communication so that the reader can learn better strategies and approaches which will greatly improve their communication skills and ultimately reduce conflict, resentment, disappointment, complaining, and confusion. As a result, the reader will be able to increase productivity, efficiency and creativity, improve all the relationships in their lives and ultimately enjoy a happier, healthier existence! Sandy blogs regularly on her two websites on the various soft skills topics that are featured in her workshops and e-learning programs.

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